Types of Abuse

Domestic partner abuse is not always physically violent. There are other subtle yet hurtful ways a partner can demonstrate abusive behavior. While abuse occurs in various forms, there are six common types of abuse, all of which share the characteristic of one partner seeking to gain and maintain control over the other. The types of abuse include:

Physical abuse

The quintessential definition of abuse that comes into mind when one hears of domestic abuse. It involves hurting or attempting to hurt a partner by intentionally using force or any object to inflict pain. Often, partners who perpetrate physical abuse may deny the victim medical care or force them to use a substance against their wishes. Your relationship is physically abusive if you answer yes to one or more of the following questions:

  • Does your partner damage property when they are angry?
  • Does your partner push, slap, bite, kick or choke you?
  • Do they intentionally abandon you in a dangerous or unfamiliar place?
  • Have they used a weapon to threaten or hurt you?
  • Have they prevented you from calling the police or seeking medical attention?
  • Has your partner hurt your children intentionally?
  • Do they use physical force in sexual situations?

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse can happen during physical abuse, but unlike physical abuse, sexual abuse can be non-physical too. Sexual abuse typically involves rape or other forced sexual acts between persons in married and unmarried relationships. Non-physical sexual abuse includes where a partner withholds sex, uses sex as a weapon, uses sex to assign value or worth. You are most likely in a sexually abusive relationship if any of the following applies: 

  • Has your partner attempted or had sex with you without consent?
  • Do they continually touch you inappropriately despite your discomfort?
  • Have they performed non-consensual sexual acts in your presence despite your discomfort?
  • Have they made sexual materials such as photographs, videos, or audio recordings featuring you without your consent?  
  • Have they made you see or watch sexual materials without your consent and despite your discomfort?
  • Has your partner compelled you to dress inappropriately in public despite your discomfort?

Emotional Abuse

This form of abuse is generally non-physical. Instead, the abusive partner inflicts pain with hurtful words by demeaning the victim’s self-esteem, name-calling, and other tactics meant to be hurtful without physical objects. You are in an emotionally abusive relationship if:

  • Your partner calls you demeaning names, insults, or continually criticizes you.
  • Your partner is distrustful and acts in a jealous or possessive manner.
  • Your partner attempts or often isolates you from family or friends.
  • Your partner withholds affection.
  • Your partner threatens to hurt you, the children, or your pets.
  • Your partner often humiliates you in public or in the presence of other people.

Psychological abuse

Similar to emotional abuse but yet, totally different. Here, your partner does or says things that mess with your mental wellbeing and health to the point of doubting your sanity. Simply put, psychological abuse involves mind games.

Financial or economic abuse

A recurring theme in domestic abuse is the abuser’s need to feel power or control over the victim. Asides from physical abuse, the other type of abuse where the abuser’s desire for control becomes very visible is financial or economic abuse. Here, the abuser makes or attempts to make the victim financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources. The abuser may also withhold access to money or sabotage the victim’s ability to earn or save financial assets, including cash. Some questions that can help you identify financial or economic abuse include:

  • Does your partner prevent you from working or doing anything to earn your own money? 
  • Does your partner often steal your money or personal belongings when you have something valuable?
  • Has your partner deliberately scammed you?
  • Do you suspect your partner set you up for fraud?
  • Have they prevented you from accessing your money, benefits, or financial assets?
  • Have they taken loans from you and defaulted several times? 
  • Do they put you under undue pressure, threat or influence when they learn you have access to a loan, property, inheritance, or financial assets?
  • Does your partner misuse your money, benefits, or direct payments?
  • Do they live rent-free without agreement or coerced you to let them move in?
  • Have they made impersonated you to access your bank account, cards, or financial documents?


Unlike other types of abuse, the abuser’s pattern of behavior harass, annoy, or scare the victim. Most abusers do this by making unsolicited telephone calls and sending unsolicited letters or gifts through a delivery service. Many go to the extreme and follow the victim everywhere they go. The abuser follows the victim from home to work and other places that the victim frequents. Eventually, stalking may escalate into physical or sexual abuse.

Cultural/Identity Abuse

A common type of abuse among ethnic minorities and immigrants and typically occurs with other kinds of abuse. Here, the abuser manipulates or seeks to control the victim with aspects of the victim’s cultural identity. Abusive behavior ranges from shaming a person’s sexual orientation to making demeaning remarks about the victim’s diet, dress customs and using derogatory racial slurs. Cultural abuse may also express as isolating a non-native speaker living in a community.

If you are a victim of any of these types of abuse, advocates at the National Domestic Violence Helpline can assist you. 

Help is available 24/7.

Call the Hotline on (800) 799-7233 (SAFE) or (800) 787-3224 (TTY).