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Home / Articles / Identifying Abuse / Can You Spot the Different Types of Abuse?

Can You Spot the Different Types of Abuse?

It’s just like Where’s Waldo except…not fun

Can You Spot the Different Types of Abuse?

The tricky thing about abusive partners is that they don’t often present as mean bullies from the outset. They aren’t malicious in every interaction. They often hide their red flags well. In fact, they can often be seemingly romantic, caring and concerned with a partner’s every need. 

And then, a switch flips. Be it a day, week or year in to the relationship, they become something else entirely. Something far less kind and far more intimidating. And it’s not always with violence—their power and control can start far more subtle than that. 

It’s confusing—where is that seemingly kind and caring person you first met? Are they coming back? 

Below, we’re describing four fictional scenarios that demonstrate different tactics of abuse. See if any sound familiar in your own life, or perhaps you recognize someone else’s partner. If so, it may be time to reach out to a trained domestic violence advocate to talk about the next steps. 

Note: In these scenarios, we describe both opposite- and same-sex relationships. Domestic abuse can happen in all relationships regardless of sexual orientation or gender and while abusers are statistically by-and-large male, other genders can also be abusive.  

Can You Identify the Abuse?

Scenario #1: Kyle and Ruby
Kyle, 32, met Ruby when she was 18 years old. They’ve only known each other for a short time, but already, Ruby feels like this has to be love. She’s never met anyone like Kyle before. He builds up Ruby’s self-esteem like no one ever has. After leaving a childhood home where one of her parents was abusive, Ruby is so happy to have found someone as kind and caring as him. He talks about their “forever” all the time. He’s asked Ruby to move in with him. He told her she doesn’t need to worry about school or a job anymore because he’ll always take care of her. He’s asked her to leave her friends and family behind and start fresh with him. He lives in a city 100 miles away from Ruby’s home. She can’t wait to start their new life together and be free.  

Scenario #2: James and Jennifer
James and Jennifer have been married for 10 years but Jennifer hasn’t felt happy in a long time. It’s not that her husband is mean, he’s just ….aloof. When he’s upset, which is often, he’ll shut down and not talk to Jennifer for days, sometimes even weeks, at a time. Jennifer wouldn’t say there are rules in their marriage, but she knows what to do and not to do in order to keep James from retreating and going silent. She knows asking him to go with her to see her family is a definite trigger for him, so she doesn’t tell her husband when she stops by her parent's house after work. 

She knows that James’ childhood wasn’t good—his father used to be abusive toward James—so she suspects that’s the cause of his emotional issues. As a result, she tries her best to show her husband more love in order to make him feel safe. But along the way, Jennifer’s begun to feel like all she does is analyze her every move in order to keep James happy. She’s stifled her once bubbly and outgoing personality. She’s stopped having friends over. She now mostly stays home and asks James what he wants to do. When she’s tried in the past to tell him how his behavior was bothering her, he’s furrowed his brow and asked her, “What are you talking about? I don’t give you the silent treatment.” 

Scenario #3: Michael and Ben
Michael and Ben were in a long-term relationship, but Ben often felt like his voice was stifled, especially when it came to intimacy. If Ben didn’t want to have sex, Michael would ask him repeatedly until Ben finally gave in. Or Michael would accuse Ben of not loving him if he wasn’t intimate, which made Ben feel like he had to prove his love through sex. If Ben ever stood up for himself and said no, Michael would get angry and leave the house, saying he was going to find someone else. Ben suspected Michael was cheating on him. If Ben did have sex with Michael whenever he wanted, Michael was happy and kind to Ben, which left Ben feeling reluctant to leave the relationship. 

Scenario #4: Jessie and Ava
Jessie and Ava had only been dating a few months. Ava hadn’t even come out to her family as gay yet. She was in love with Jessie and wanted to show her by buying her gifts. But after a while, Jessie asked for bigger and more expensive gifts. At one point, Ava even bought her a car after Jessie asked her to. Jessie would use Ava’s credit cards when she went shopping and promised to pay her back after she got a job. Ava felt like she could never say no for fear of making Jessie mad. In one incident, when Ava said she wouldn’t buy Jessie something she wanted, Jessie threatened to out her on social media unless she did.

Scenario #5: Maurice and Patricia
Maurice and Patricia had been married for almost 30 years and were devoted to their church. As empty nesters, Patricia wanted to go back to school and start a new chapter of her life in a career she’d always dreamed of. Maurice told her that he didn’t agree with that choice and that the bible says women should be at home in service to their husbands. Patricia thought that idea was outdated, but Maurice said that their home was one of traditional values and Patricia needed to stick to that in order to continue to be married to him. When Patricia suggested they try marriage counseling to resolve the issue, Maurice said he would only talk to their church leader for guidance.  

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Scenario #1: Kyle and Ruby
Kyle is giving off serious red flags here. They could indicate:

  • Grooming: Abusers can come across as “knights in shining armor” to potential victims initially in order to gain their trust. Young people and those who have experienced childhood domestic violence are particularly vulnerable. 
  • Love-bombing: An initial flurry of flattery and attention to win over a partner, only to become more possessive, controlling and potentially violent once the partner’s trust is earned. 
  • Possessiveness: When a partner asks you to spend time with them and only them, it can seem romantic, but it can also be a precursor to control. 
  • Isolation: Abusers oftentimes try to isolate victims from their support system by forbidding them to see friends and family or hold a job, or may move them to a new or rural area.

Scenario #2: James and Jennifer
James demonstrates the following types of abusive tactics in this example:

  • Emotional abuse: Manipulating a partner’s emotions in order to control them, sometimes also referred to as psychological abuse. It’s often non-physical and can include many other facets, such as shaming, name-calling, lying and possessiveness. 
  • The silent treatment: Cutting off a partner emotionally in order to hurt, punish, isolate or control them.
  • Perspecticide: An abusive tactic akin to brainwashing where an abuser begins to define reality for a survivor. 
  • Gaslighting: This happens when an abuser denies a survivor’s reality so often that the survivor can no longer trust what they’re seeing or experiencing. 

Scenario #3: Michael and Ben
Michael is using the following tactics of power and control in this relationship:

  • Sexual coercion: A tactic where a partner uses emotional manipulation to get sex. This can include pressuring a partner, threatening to cheat or withholding money or other needs if the person doesn’t relent. It can escalate to sexual assault or other forms of abuse. 

Scenario #4: Jessie and Ava
Jessie is showing major red flags for this type of abuse:

  • Financial abuse: When a partner controls or restricts the money or takes away a partner’s ability to earn money. It can also include ruining a partner’s credit, running up large debts, spending money but not allowing one’s partner to do the same or giving the partner an allowance.
  • Emotional/psychological abuse: By threatening to out Ava, Jessie is manipulating her emotionally in order to have power over her. In an LGBTQ relationship where an abuser is present, weaponizing a partner’s sexual identity is a common tactic of abuse.

Scenario #5: Maurice and Patricia
Maurice is utilizing the following abusive tactics:

  • Religious or spiritual abuse: Using a partner’s religious beliefs to control them. This can include using religious texts to manipulate, blame or shame someone. A religious leader can also be guilty of spiritual abuse by forcing or coercing a follower to stay in a relationship under the pretense of adhering to that religion, a major barrier for some survivors to leave an abuser. Like other types of nonphysical abuse, this can escalate into more violent forms of abuse over time. 
  • Financial abuse: By preventing Patricia from getting an education or having a career, Maurice could be trying to keep her financially dependent on him to make sure she can’t leave.