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Domestic Violence, Identifying Abuse and Abusers, Power and Control

There is no typical abuser. In public he or she may appear to be caring to their partner and family and may only be abusive when others are not there to witness the abuse. Abusive behavior is a choice and abuse is not an accident.

Abusers come from many different backgrounds and have different life experiences, but the tactics they use to control their partners are very similar.  Abuse is a pattern of hurtful behavior that one partner uses to control the other in an intimate relationship. Being stressed out or using alcohol or drugs does not cause someone to be abusive. (For more information look at our Domestic Violence and Chemical Dependency page.) In the past, it was believed that abuse was the result of one person becoming angry and "losing control." Now we know that abuse is actually a way that a person attempts to gain control over their intimate partner. Abuse can take many forms.

Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used by an individual to establish and maintain coercive control over their intimate partner. Domestic violence consists of physical, sexual, psychological, and/or emotional abuse. Abusive partners often use tactics described in this wheel. The tactics used are compounded when physical violence is also involved. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of tactics and they do not apply to everyone. (For more information on the pattern of control exhibited by batterers, please view the Cycle of Violence page.) 

Power and Control Diagram















Adapted from the Domestic Violence Intervention Project, Duluth, MN.

Minimizing, Denying and Blaming

  • Making light of the abuse
  • Not taking partner's concerns seriously
  • Denying that the abuse occurred
  • Saying that the partner caused the abuse
  • Blaming an outside event or situation for the abuse (loss of employment, drugs or alcohol, an argument, etc).


  • Making the partner afraid by using looks, actions or gestures
  • Smashing things
  • Destroying property and personal belongings
  • Abusing, maiming or hurting a family pet
  • Threatening to hurt extended family/friends
  • Displaying weapons
  • Hiding or destroying important papers (passports, ID cards, health care cards, etc.)
  • Threatening the other person
  • Driving recklessly

Emotional Abuse

  • Playing mind games and sending mixed signals
  • Making partner feel guilty or responsible for abuse
  • Encouraging children to belittling their parent
  • Lying to or cheating on partner
  • Claiming jealousy
  • Ignoring feelings, jokes, insults, name calling and labeling
  • Withholding approval as punishment
  • Put-downs of roles or abilities, such as that of a parent or education level
  • Private humiliation
  • Degrading or controlling choices (clothing, food etc.)
  • Demanding of all attention
  • Resentful of children or threats against or to take children
  • Threats against the marriage
  • Threats of 'outing' a partner
  • Lack of cause and effect between actions and consequences
  • Claiming to forget abusive incidents, minimizing or denying they occurred
  • Questions partner's sense of reality and causes partner to question sense of reality
  • Veiled threats
  • Claiming partner is hysterical, paranoid, psychotic, mentally ill, suicidal and/or homicidal
  • Threatening deportation
  • Degrading of culture, religion, nationality, profession, gender, and/or sexual orientation
  • Suicide


  • Controlling or limiting of outside activities partner is involved in
  • Eliminating support system
  • Limiting who partner sees and talks to
  • Tracking or monitoring activities and/or whereabouts
  • Using jealousy to justify the isolation
  • Not allowing partner to drive or have access to a vehicle
  • Not allowing partner to learn English
  • Isolating partner from friends and family
  • Moving away from friends and family
  • Not allowing partner to have contact with people who speak the same language
  • Threatening friends or family members so that they may be reluctant to have contact with partner

Using Children

  • Making partner feel guilty about the children
  • Practicing child abuse or incest
  • Criticizing partner's parenting skills
  • Refusing to pay child support
  • Using children to relay messages
  • Using visitation to harass partner
  • Threatening to take the children away
  • Threatening to move out of the country with the children
  • Threatening to call CPS or INS
  • Threatening to harm the children
  • Teaching the children to disrespect their parent
  • Constantly undermining partner's authority with the children
  • Not taking proper care of the children during visitation

Using Male Privilege

  • Treating partner like a servant
  • Making all of the decisions for the family
  • Being the one to define both men's and women's roles
  • Expecting to be treated with a level of respect that the abuser does not return
  • Quoting sources such as the Bible to justify actions
  • Uses gender "myths" and "roles" (society reinforces these)

Economic Abuse

  • Makes partner economically dependent
  • Preventing one from getting or keeping a job
  • Making partner ask for money
  • Taking all of the money
  • Giving partner an allowance
  • Making partner account for every penny spent
  • Not letting partner have access to the family income
  • Acquiring great amounts of debt
  • Refusing to pay child support
  • Not allowing partner to complete job training classes
  • Denying ability to work or getting partner fired
  • Forcing partner to do illegal work

Coercion and Threats

  • Threatening to kill
  • Making and/or carrying out threats to hurt partner
  • Threatening to leave 
  • Threatening to commit suicide
  • Threatening to take the children
  • Making partner do illegal things
  • Threatening to report partner to the INS
  • Promising that the abuse will never happen again
  • Threatening to family and employer

Sexual Abuse

  • Forcing sexual activity, rape, forced sex, sex against your will
  • Refusing to wear a condom
  • Sexual jokes or demeaning remarks toward your sex
  • Name calling, sexual labels
  • Criticizing, demeaning and/or questioning sexuality
  • Demanding monogamy, while insisting on freedom for self
  • Humiliation
  • Unwanted/forced touching
  • Justification of unwanted sexual acts
  • Labeling sexual abuse as consensual behavior
  • Forced to look at and/or engage in pornography
  • Demanding sex with threats
  • Withholding sexual attention and ignoring sexual needs
  • Forcing prostitution
  • Making partner feel guilty for not wanting to have sex
  • Normalizing abuse, which can be especially confusing if it is the victim's first sexual relationship

Using Physical Violence

  • Throwing household items as weapons or otherwise
  • Grabbing, pushing, shoving, shaking, jerking, slapping, biting, pinching, hitting, bruising, punching and/or kicking
  • Pulling hair
  • Throwing or restraining
  • Restraining while hitting or punching
  • Physical abuse during pregnancy
  • Deprivation (food, sleep, medical needs, etc.)
  • Strangulation or hands around your neck
  • Lacerations or cutting
  • Imprisonment
  • Broken bones, internal injury
  • Threats or use of conventional weapons, such as guns or knives
  • Disabling, disfiguring permanent injury
  • Shows of strength
  • Murder