Why Do People Abuse Their Partners?

Much research has gone into understanding the reasons individuals perpetrate acts of domestic violence. Experts have varying theories and explanations for why people abuse their partners. Still, a common consensus distills the underlying factors into the following:

  • A transgenerational cycle of violence
  • Stress
  • Social isolation
  • Personality problems & Psychopathological conditions

A Transgenerational Cycle of Violence

Every year, five to twenty million American children witness domestic violence in their households. This theory suggests that the behaviors that partners exhibit in adult relationships are learned responses that children learned from their family or community members.

On why men are more likely to be perpetrators of domestic abuse than women, experts argue that gender plays a factor in response to violence seen or experienced in childhood, i.e., boys learn to be violent, and girls learn to be passive victims.

There is, however, a shortage of statistics to firmly establish this theory of gender-based adoption of roles in domestic abuse. Nevertheless, this response to childhood violence has become quite common and a norm accepted by society.


Several studies have investigated how certain events such as losing a loved one, a serious illness, professional stress, and educational stress can trigger partner abuse. At first, even ideal partners internalize all their fears and frustrations, then they become depressed. Unable to cope with toxic stress, partners can exhibit several responses, from hyperactivity to direct and indirect domestic abuse.

Social Isolation and Mobility Restrictions

This put tremendous strain on mental health and relationships and escalated domestic abuse.  

The effect of social isolation in domestic abuse became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic when cities went on lockdown. Consequently, partners had to spend more time together indoors, away from other people.

Social isolation during the pandemic – although necessary to break the wave of infection until researchers developed a vaccine, caused Americans to experience a sudden halt to social life. Consequently, there was close contact between victims and their abusers in terms of shared space and time. Abusers leveraged social isolation to exercise control over their partners, who had spent time away at school, work, going on a run, or some other form of activity until then.

Personality Problems & Psychopathological Conditions

According to the Center for Disease Control, psychopathological conditions such as depression, suicidal ideation, anger issues, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder can cause a partner to be abusive.

Besides these, personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder can cause a partner to become abusive. 

A common characteristic of the individuals who have these disorders are: 

  • emotional instability
  • fear of abandonment
  • self-conflict and neediness
  • impulsive behavior
  • preoccupation with self and dominance
  • secret feelings of shame, humiliation, and vulnerability
  • lack of empathy 

This list of behavioral patterns is inexhaustive and varies with individual. Partners who have personality disorders tend to veil these behaviors and scheme their ways into total control of their partner. 

The Bottom Line

Regardless of the reason behind the abuse, you need to prioritize your safety and stop making excuses for an abusive partner. If your partner suffers from some form of personality disorder, helping them find professional help is the best way to begin healing for both of you. 

When you are ready, trained professionals can help you leave an abusive relationship and transition to a healthy relationship.

Contact the National Hotline on (800) 799-SAFE (7233).