How to recognise the signs of domestic abuse

‘Domestic violence is the abuse of one partner within an intimate or family relationship. It is the repeated, random and habitual use of intimidation to control a partner. The abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual. Anyone forced to alter their behaviour because they are frightened of their partner’s reaction is being abused.’  

Credit – Refuge

Think about that for a bit.

‘Anyone forced to alter their behaviour because they are frightened of their partner’s reaction is being abused.’

According to the Office for National Statistics, one woman in four experiences domestic violence in her lifetime, so the chances are that if you don’t recognise that statement in yourself, it may well be happening to someone you know. Perhaps they’re hiding it, perhaps you have your suspicions, maybe it’s obvious but you don’t know what to do to help.

One option is to get in touch with Refuge. Refuge supports anyone who has experienced domestic abuse in any of its forms, through a range of services including, but not limited to, refuges, advocacy and a telephone helpline, run in partnership with Women’s Aid. (Open 24 hours a day – 0808 2000 247).

(If you’re nervous about visiting the Refuge website it might be useful to know that it has an escape bar across the top of the page – click on it anytime and it will immediately change the screen to show the Google homepage.)

Today, September 5th, is International Day of Charity and I wanted to use it to make sure that as many people as possible know about Refuge and that anyone looking for support, either for themselves or someone else, can access it as quickly as possible.

What is domestic abuse?

Because domestic abuse encompasses so much more than just physical violence, it can be hard to be sure whether or not you are experiencing it.

That might sound like a strange thing to say, but when you’re in a relationship it can be hard to get perspective on a situation. You make excuses for people you love, you blame a difficult background or problems at work perhaps, because you don’t want to believe that they would hurt you. You are probably scared – scared to admit the abuse to yourself or other people or scared of the consequences of taking action to get away.

If you suspect that you might be experiencing domestic abuse, take a look at the following questions from the Refuge website:

  • Is your partner excessively jealous and possessive?
  • Is he charming one minute and abusive the next? Does he have sudden changes of mood – like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
  • Is he stopping you from seeing your family and friends? Do you feel isolated?
  • Is he constantly criticizing you and putting you down in public?
  • Does he embarrass you, often in front of family and friends, so that you are seen in a bad light?
  • Does your partner play mind games and make you unsure of your own judgment?
  • Does he tell you you’re useless and couldn’t cope without him?
  • Does he control your money?
  • Does he tell you what to wear, who to see, where to go, what to think?
  • Does he pressure you to have sex when you don’t want to?
  • Are you starting to walk on eggshells to avoid making him angry?
  • Does he monitor your movements? Or check up on you via your email, Facebook, Twitter or by looking at your text messages?
  • Does he use anger and intimidation to frighten you and make you comply with his demands?
  • Has your partner ever threatened you, or intimidated you by using violent language or smashing up the furniture?
  • Are you forced to alter your behaviour because you are frightened of your partner’s reaction?
  • Are you blamed for their behaviour e.g. they say you were “asking for it” or deserved the abuse?

In case you’re wondering ‘how many did I need to tick?’, it could just be one. If you said yes to ANY of these, you may be experiencing domestic abuse.


Find out more about how Refuge can help by visiting their website or calling the 24 hour helpline on 0808 2000 247. 

what is domestic abuse? get help

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash



  1. Tony Martin
    5 September, 2018 / 10:30 am

    Great post, some very very good advice here

  2. 5 September, 2018 / 5:15 pm

    Thank you for raising this subject. Yes to 11 of those questions. But it’s not my husband, it’s our 8- and 9-year-old daughters. They experienced violence in their first family and now so do we, having adopted them at 3 and 4.

    We need to have organisations like Refuge that deal with child to parent violence and abuse (CPVA) and give it the same platform. We can’t run away from our children. They are not criminals but fellow victims. All the ‘support’ services pass our case between each other, blame our parenting, and generally add to the stress. There is no help available – we’ve tried everything.

    We’re trapped, our house is smashed up, and we’re being hit, kicked, bitten, and pelted with our own shoes on a daily basis. There are lots of other adoptive and SEND parents in the same position, and it’s awful.

    • Jo Middleton
      5 September, 2018 / 6:26 pm

      Gosh Hannah, that’s absolute shocking and I’m so sorry and sad that you aren’t able to get the support you need. That sounds like such a pathetic thing to say – I wish I could say something more useful. I can only imagine how frustrating, (and scary?), it must be for you. Do you have friends and family who can at least offer you a bit of emotional support?

    • Jo Middleton
      6 September, 2018 / 10:36 am

      Hi Hannah, just to follow up to say that I did speak to Refuge about your comment to see if there was anything they could suggest. They suggested calling the freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge. They have specialist helpline advisers who will be able to offer confidential, non-judgemental information and expert support. There is more information on the helpline here

      I imagine you have tried this already but I just wanted you to know that I had asked and was thinking of you.

  3. Simon Balfre
    5 September, 2018 / 5:35 pm

    This is well written and I will be sharing it far and wide, including to friends, by email, who don’t have Facebook, or any other form of social media.

  4. 5 September, 2018 / 9:45 pm

    This article is amazing because it rightly focuses on the intimidation and controlling nature, which is often worse than the actual violence. I had someone like this in my life (family member rather than spouse) and their manipulation skills are second nature to them in making those around them feel small and powerless. I hope this article helps anyone in this situation to realise they need to seek help or distance or both.

    • Jo Middleton
      6 September, 2018 / 10:33 am

      Thanks for commenting. The emotional abuse is definitely something that needs to be talked about more as it can be hugely damaging but often so much more difficult to recognise or accept.

  5. Jane
    5 September, 2018 / 10:21 pm

    My son and I are survivors of domestic abuse from my now very ex husband. I was lucky to survive being shot. I can not praise the support we both got from Woman’s Aid and the Refuge services. It has not been an easy journey but every step has been worth it.

    • Jo Middleton
      6 September, 2018 / 10:32 am

      Thanks for your comment Jane. I’m so pleased that you and your son were able to get out of that situation and hope that you continue to go from strength to strength. x

  6. MrsBambi2
    6 September, 2018 / 8:12 am

    Although I appreicate this post I’m disappointed that the whole emphasis is on women. I have known many men who have been physically and severely mentally abused by their wives or partners. There is no voice for the kind and caring men who suffer

    • Jo Middleton
      6 September, 2018 / 10:31 am

      I appreciate your point and absolutely wouldn’t want to imply that the same things don’t happen to men. However, my readership is 80% women and Refuge is a charity that focuses on supporting women and children, so that’s where the emphasis naturally falls in this case. There are other organisations who specialise in supporting men, so if there is someone that you are worried about you could take a look at Men’s Advice Line – or ManKind initiative – I hope that helps to answer your concern.

      • Linda Thomas
        28 September, 2018 / 4:19 pm

        Expert analysis determines that it is a problem with a gender bias where the perpetrators are generally male and the sufferer is female, which is not to denigrate the relatively small number of men who suffer it, too, as you say, and who deserve the same respect and help.

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