Relationship Violence

Types of Abuse
Cycle of Violence
Why do they stay?
Warning Signs
How to Help

Types of Abuse

According to the Centers for Disease Control, abuse is present in 32% of college relationships. The information on this page is intended provide information about relationship abuse, and suggest ways to help friends that are in abusive relationships.

It is important to know that relationship violence can happen in any kind of relationship. Gay, lesbian, and straight relationships are all susceptible to violence and abuse.

In straight relationships, men can be both the abuser and the abused, although men perpetrate 95% of all serious physical abuse (Bureau of Justice Statistics). The fact is that abuse is present in all types of college relationships, and it usually takes one of these forms:

Emotional/Psychological abuse

May take the form of negative comments about the person's:

  • Weight or appearance- "You're getting fat."
  • Intelligence - "You're so stupid." "You're an idiot."
  • Ability - "You can't do anything right." "You're worthless."
  • Comments are meant to lower the partner's self-esteem.
  • Abuse will be subtle at first, but usually escalates over time.

Physical Abuse

  • Usually doesn't appear in the relationship for a long time.
  • May start out as grabbing, pushing, or poking.
  • Usually escalates over time to slapping, punching, etc.
  • May also include sexual assault.

Social Isolation

  • The abuser slowly isolates the person from friends and family.
  • May start by making comments like, "Your friends are out to break us up," or, "Your parents don't like me, let's not visit them this weekend."
  • The abuser will demand more and more of his/her partner's time, and will get extremely jealous when his/her partner spends time with other people.
  • Isolation from friends and family takes away his/her partner's support system and makes him/her completely dependent on the abuser.

Cycle of Violence

Abusive relationships don't start with obvious bouts of physical violence. It takes time for the abuse to surface. Physically violent relationships usually follow this pattern:

Honeymoon Phase

The relationship will start in a honeymoon phase, like most relationships do. The abuser is very romantic, charming, and very attentive to the needs of his/her partner. The relationship may stay in the honeymoon phase for a long period of time, but at some point tension starts to build.

Tension Building Phase

During this phase, tension starts to build between the abuser and his/her partner. The tension may be brought on by financial problems, trouble with classes, final exam stress, or a number of other social factors. During this phase the abuser will be hypersensitive and his/her partner may feel like they are walking on eggshells. As the tension rises, it will eventually come to a head, and physical violence will occur.

Physical Violence

The first episode of violence may be a push or a slap. It may not physically injure the partner, but it is definitely an assault of some kind. This stage is usually very short in length, and it will lead back into the honeymoon phase.

Honeymoon Phase - after physical assault

The abuser will apologize for the assault and promise that it will never happen again. The abuser will be very charming and believable, and the abused partner will usually forgive the abuser and take him/her back.

The relationship will remain in the honeymoon period for a while, but over time it will transition back into the tension building phase, and ultimately lead back physical violence, forming a Cycle of Abuse.

After the first bout of physical violence, each physical attack that follows will most likely escalate in severity. Also, after each trip through the Cycle of Abuse, the honeymoon and tension building phase gets shorter in duration.

Why do they stay?

There are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships. Here are a few of the most common reasons:

  • Love
  • Low self-esteem - after a period of being told that they are worthless, ugly, fat, and that no one else will want them, they begin to believe it.
  • No support system - they have been isolated from friends and family from their abuser and they may not have the support needed to break away.
  • Fear - their abuser may have threatened them with more physical violence if they try to leave. They may fear for their lives.

Warning Signs

Early Warning Signs of Potential Abuse

The presence of one or two of these traits does not signify that a person will be abusive, but if a person possesses many of these traits, there is cause for concern.

  • Extreme jealousy
  • Controlling behavior
  • Quick involvement
  • Unrealistic expectations - perfect mate
  • Blames others for problems and feelings
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Cruelty to animals
  • "Playful" use of force during sex
  • Verbal abuse
  • Rigid sex roles

There should definitely be concern if any of the following are present:

  • Past battering
  • Threats of violence
  • Breaking or striking objects
  • Any force used during an argument

How to Help

Inform them of resources available

The Lehigh University Counseling Center is a safe and confidential resource for people who are experiencing abuse. They can help your friend examine her/his relationship and how it is affecting her/his life.

Also, Turning Point of the Lehigh Valley, Inc . is a local resource for people in abusive relationships. They provide a 24 hour crisis hotline as well as an emergency shelter for women and children who leave abusive homes.

The Break the Silence 24 Hour Sexual Violence Peer Hotline is also available by dialing 4-HOPE (610-974-4673). For a full list of resources that are available to help you or your friends, click here.

Be patient, but not a pushover

People in abusive relationships usually take a long time to leave their relationship, if they ever do. Be patient and allow them to make decisions at their own pace. Offer as much help as possible, but be sure not to reinforce their decisions to return to the relationship.

If you let them, they will rely on you until they feel better and things settle down. Then they will return to the honeymoon phase of the cycle of abuse.

Ask them what it will take for the abuser to change

Is the abuser doing those things? If they say they are only abused when their partner drinks or is on drugs, ask them if their abuser is in rehab or seeing a counselor. If the answer is no, ask them why they thinks things will be different this time. Be honest with them and don't sugar-coat things. Make them aware that the abuse will continue as long as their abuser doesn't get help.

Take care of yourself

Working with friends in abusive relationships can be frustrating. If you've helped them for an extended period of time, you may become their entire support system. It may get to the point where your life is being severely affected by your friend's relationship.

If it becomes too much, let them know that you've tried everything you could to help and that they have to make the decision to leave or stay. If they decide to stay, inform them that there is nothing more you can do for them. It is hard, but only the abused person can make the decision to get out of the relationship.

If you've tried everything you could to get them out of the situation and they go back, it's their choice and you've done nothing wrong. You have to recognize when the abuse is starting to have an affect on your life as a friend, and you have to know your boundaries and limitations.






Gender Violence Prevention and Response