Domestic violence is not just about physical abuse

Julie Krohnfeldt

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. Most people believe that domestic violence refers only to physical abuse, but according to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline (, the scope is much broader, and affects people of all races, ages, sexual orientation, religion and gender.

The key element in domestic violence, also called domestic abuse, is power and control over an intimate partner, which can be expressed in a variety of ways. Some of the ways a partner may try to dominate the other include physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation.

According to the National Resource Center for Domestic Violence (, “batters use a range of tactics to frighten, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, often injure, and sometimes kill a current or former intimate partner.”

“One in three women and one in four men experience domestic violence. This is a public health epidemic,” said Aaron Zimmerman, of the Domestic Abuse Project (DAP), a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization that offers programs to help those caught in the cycle of abuse.

The cycle of abuse has three phases. Phase 1 is called Tension Building. Many describe this as “walking on eggshells.” Victims work hard to try to smooth things so that the partner will not explode. Phase 2 is called the Acute Battering Incident. The abuser explodes. Nothing the victim does can change the outcome.

Phase 3 is called the Relief Period, or Honeymoon Period. Some abusers ask for forgiveness, or promise not to repeat the behavior during this phase. The victim wants to believe the contrite partner and often remains in the situation, a hostage of hope for a better future. However, statistics show that the abuse will increase in intensity over time and progress to higher levels of violence without an intervention.

“The top red flags of an abusive relationships are isolation, control and jealousy,” continued Zimmerman. “Cutting a partner off from friends and family is very successful because then there is no one for the victim to go to for help. Gaslighting – creating a “fake reality” or getting the victim to question reality – is another big one. It’s manipulative abuse.”

Other red flags, according to the DAP website, include putting you down, being habitually angry and critical, nagging you to be sexual in ways you don’t want to be, cheating on you, accusing you of flirting or cheating, not listening to you or showing interest in your opinions of feelings, insisting on always having their way, ignoring you, giving you the silent treatment, blaming all problems on you, telling you how to dress or act, threatening suicide if you break up with them, exhibiting extreme mood swings (Jekyll and Hyde), telling you to shut up, or that you’re dumb, fat, mentally ill, “crazy,” etc; and comparing you to other partners.

If you feel afraid to break up with a partner, or that if you just tried harder and loved your partner more things would get better, but things just seem to be getting worse, there is help available. DayOne ( offers a 24/7 statewide crisis intervention hotline (1-866-223-1111) that can connect you with free and confidential help near you. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.