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What Is Intimate Partner Violence?

Domestic violence or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) can be defined as willful or intentional behaviors perpetrated on one’s intimate partner in the form of intimidation, emotional abuse, physical, sexual and/or psychological assault or battery, or any other type of abusive action that is part of a systematic pattern of power and control.

Although IPV may look different in different relationships, and the frequency and severity of domestic violence may vary, the one common factor in most situations is the abusive partner’s consistent effort to maintain power and control over the other partner, spouse, or significant other. This constitutes the kind of domestic violence that is referred to as “Intimate Terrorism.”

Six Types of Abuse

The National Domestic Hotline website breaks down the power and control tactics abusers use against their victims into six categories. These six types of abuse are based on the well-known “Power & Control Wheel,” developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse happens when your partner physically harms you through hitting, kicking, punching, slapping, or otherwise forcefully touching or restraining you (with or without a weapon). Even if you fight back against your partner, this is still abuse. Other forms of physical abuse include forcing you to drink or use drugs, intentionally driving in a reckless manner when you are in the car, harming your children or pets, or preventing you from getting help (e.g. from law enforcement or medical professionals).

Emotional Abuse/Psychological Aggression

This type of abuse occurs when your partner intentionally and repeatedly insults and belittles you, calls you names, humiliates you (often in front of others), and/or suggests you are without worth. It may also involve isolating you, forbidding you to see friends and family, threatening you, snooping through your things, and/or constantly monitoring where you are. There may be jealousy or cheating behavior.

Abusers’ need for power also leads them to play “mind games” that lead their victims to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity (sometimes referred to as “gaslighting”). They may also take advantage of a victim’s status as a disabled person, recent immigrant status, etc. to exert control.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when your partner forces sexual activity on you without your consent. It is always illegal to force sexual activity on someone, even if you are married or in a relationship. Even if you are not physically forced, your partner may be sexually abusive if he or she behaves coercively around sex.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse occurs when your partner coercively controls finances and money in a relationship. The abuser may confiscate your paychecks, control bank accounts or not give you information about them, refuse to give you money, or only give you money when you do what or he or she wants. You may not be allowed to have a job. On the other hand, he or she may run up debts in your name or steal money from you or your loved ones.

Reproductive Coercion

Reproductive coercion occurs when your partner interferes with your birth control methods and/or choices about pregnancy, such as by removing or sabotaging birth control methods, lying about birth control, denying you the use of birth control, and/or forcing you into having or not having an abortion.

Digital Abuse

Digital abuse occurs when your partner tries to control or harass you using technology. While this can take many forms, one of the most common examples is using technology to be intrusive in your life by going through your phone, email, or social media accounts without your permission or attempting to monitor or track you via text or phone. This may also include the use of social media (like Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to insult or threaten you, or to pressure you to send sexually explicit videos, texts, or revealing photos. There are many other ways a partner can be inappropriately controlling or intrusive via technology, the Internet, or social media.

Situational Couple Violence

It’s important to know about another type of domestic violence called Situational Couple Violence. SCV occurs when conflicts turn violent, but physical force is used without a need to control. Both partners, men and women alike, can engage in this form of violence in response to situations that escalate as a result of rising tension or emotions. Their inability to communicate verbally or resolve conflict through non-violent means can lead partners to be physically aggressive. The violence may be minor and occur as an isolated incident that never happens again, or it may be the way a couple gets used to dealing with conflict on a constant basis.

Although situational violence can potentially be as harmful and life-threatening as intimate terrorism, the latter accounts for most serious injury and death. The difference is not about the type of assault that may occur, but the absence of an overriding power and control dynamic. Motives in situational couple violence vary and might be associated with expressions of extreme anger and frustration, or attempts to get one’s partner to listen. Though control might be the motive in a particular situation, it is typically not the chronic pattern of coercive control that characterizes intimate terrorism.


By Silvia Echevarria-Doan, PH.D. LMFT, LCSW
Founder & Therapist, The Alma Therapy Institute, LLC in Gainesville, FL
Associate Professor, Emeritus, Counselor Education, University of Florida


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Intimate partner violence definitions. Retrieved from

Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. (n.d.) Power and control wheel. Retrieved from

Johnson, M. P. (2008). A typology of domestic violence: Intimate terrorism, violent resistance, and situational couple violence. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press.

National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2016). Abuse defined. Retrieved from

National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2016). TAC – Power and control wheel. Retrieved from

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