Abusive Relationships
Abusive Relationships
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Your support system consists of friends, family members, trusted professors or advisors, romantic partners, and classmates. Occasionally, you might disagree or argue about something with someone in this circle. An apology is often enough to get the relationship back into healthy territory. In other cases, your differences could be so fundamental that the relationship sours. While it’s natural to fall out of touch with someone or grow apart, it isn’t natural for a relationship of any type to become toxic, abusive, or violent.

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What is an abusive relationship?

An abusive relationship is one in which the abuser wants to maintain control and display their power through any means necessary. This could be by becoming emotionally, sexually, or physically violent toward the other. Abusive relationships can happen to anyone and they don’t only occur between two intimate partners. A friendship could become abusive, as could a parent-child relationship, or a relationship with an acquaintance.

What are the signs of an abusive relationship?


  • Threatening or harming you with weapons
  • Threatening or harming you with their body (punching, kicking, choking, etc.)
  • Not allowing you to seek medical attention for your injuries
  • Not allowing you to sleep
  • Not allowing you to eat
  • Forcing you to participate in drug or alcohol use without your consent
  • Lashing out against inanimate objects (throwing things, hitting walls, etc.)


  • Not allowing you to see or speak to family or friends
  • Becoming jealous and critical of your other relationships, leading to possessiveness
  • Demanding to know where you are and who you are with at all times
  • Cheating on you and blaming you for it
  • Cheating on you with the intention of making you feel bad about yourself
  • Accusing you of cheating on them
  • Making fun of you or humiliating you, alone or in public


  • Forcing you to participate in sexual activities against your will
  • Making you feel obligated to participate in sexual activities
  • Hurting you during sexual activities
  • Purposefully attempting to infect you with an STI
  • Refusing to use birth control
  • Reproductive coercion (behaviors intended to force a partner to become pregnant or end a pregnancy)

These are only some of the signs of an abusive relationship; for more information about the different types and signs of abuse, click here. Typically, not every sign of abuse will be present in an abusive relationship. For instance, one abuser may solely rely on emotional manipulation to stay in control while another becomes physically and sexually violent. It takes only one sign to define an abusive relationship. If you ever feel unsafe, get out and call one of the numbers listed below. If you think the violence could be considered a crime, call the police.

What should I do if I feel violent?

Disagreements happen. So do jealousy, lust, rage, and grief. No matter how strong your emotions are, take a step back before you hurt your loved one with words or actions. If you feel compelled to react violently, remove yourself from the situation. If you feel like throwing a punch at the rude guy next to you at the bar, leave the bar. If you feel like shouting profanities at your significant other for not answering your text message, take a walk. Let yourself calm down; you’ll be able to communicate much more effectively and maturely.

If you feel the urge to commit any kind of violence, seek help from your primary care doctor, mental health specialist, or campus health center. This includes cyberbullying, slut-shaming, body-shaming, rape, sexual assault, hate crimes, verbal abuse, and physical attacks. No matter what provokes the anger, these reactions are extreme and unwarranted. These responses usually show unresolved traumas or anger issues that need attention. You can also call a national hotline; their volunteers are trained to talk to both the abused and the abusers.

What should I do if I am the victim in an abusive relationship?

First, know that it is not your fault. If a relationship is putting an unresolvable strain on your mental or physical health, it is time to end the relationship. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The first thing you should do is get treatment for any physical injuries from which you are suffering. Next, tell someone. You may choose to call a national hotline, tell a friend, or visit a counselor. Your campus health center or mental health specialist can outline strategies for ending a relationship that are specific to the needs of your situation.

Once you have ended the relationship, you may find that you are in a period of mourning. This is normal; even though the relationship was abusive, it was still with a person whom you were close to, and healing takes time. Consider making recurring appointments with a counselor to talk through your feelings.

What should I do if I have been sexually abused?

Consent is an important aspect of any relationship. No matter how long you’ve been with a partner, no matter if you’ve hooked up once or been married for years, your partner must have your consent to touch you. If your abusive relationship involves gender or sexual violence of any kind, you may decide to report the incident(s) to the authorities or to the school. There are structures in place that allow you to report instances of sexual abuse on campus. Your report could be detailed or it could be anonymous, and your decision to file a report is your own. The goal is to help the campus better protect you.

Legally, every school must have at least one Title IX coordinator, who upholds amendments that prohibit gender-based discrimination in education. You might use the Title IX office as a resource if you are interested in going to the police to press charges or file a restraining order. Most campuses also have a separate office that is dedicated to preventing sexual assault and violence and advocating for its survivors. You can find information about your campus’ options through this office or through the campus health center.

What resources are there for people experiencing abusive relationships?

Page last updated: 03/2019