Intimate Partner Violence: What You Need to Know

A woman rests her head on a friend’s shoulder.

This blog post is about intimate partner violence, a type of domestic violence. Please take care while reading. Or, skip it altogether. If you or someone you know needs emergency support, help is available. For free, private support 24/7, call 1-800-799-7233. Or, text START to 88788 to reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

It might start with something that seems small. Maybe your partner insists you tell them where you’re meeting friends. Or makes mean comments about your haircut. Or asks for the passcode to your phone. No big deal, right? Maybe not.

The people closest to us are meant to be safe havens. But the actions described above can be toxic. And they may be subtle warning signs of something serious: intimate partner violence (IPV).

IPV is a type of domestic violence (violence that takes place within a home). It’s defined as a “pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that’s used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.”

IPV affects more people than you might think. As of 2022, 41% of women and 26% of men in the U.S. have been exposed to some form of it during their lives. The number jumps to 54% for transgender and nonbinary people.

No matter how widespread, IPV is never the victim’s fault. All IPV survivors deserve support. “Your home and relationships should provide mental, physical, and emotional safety,” says AbleTo Program Advisor Giselle Alexander, LCSW.

Let’s take a look at what IPV involves. We’ll also go over the warning signs and risk factors. Then we’ll cover how to seek help for yourself or someone you love.

Achieve your mental wellness goals

AbleTo programs give you 24/7 access to tools, activities, and content tailored to your needs. Sign up or log in to start exploring.

What IPV can look like

Physical acts, like hitting, may come to mind first. But abuse can also fall into 5 other buckets. Here’s what they are. Plus, examples of what they might include:

  • Sexual: any type of forced intimate touch, including rape or degrading treatment
  • Emotional: frequent criticism or name-calling; wrecking other relationships
  • Economic: controlling access to money or credit; using the other person’s resources
  • Psychological: threats against a person or their loved ones; forced isolation
  • Technological: online stalking* or bullying; limiting access to devices

These behaviors may not be present at first. And they can often ramp up over time. (Stalking offline is also a form of abuse.

Regardless of how many warning signs are present, there’s a common theme. “These behaviors allow the abuser to control the victim,” says Alexander. This keeps the victim at risk.

* Note: Stalking offline is also a form of abuse.

IPV often follows a pattern

IPV is often a vicious loop. First, an event happens. The abuser says they’re sorry. They may even promise to change. Then comes a period of tension. The victim might feel the need to be extra alert or careful. A window of calm follows. Then, another event takes place.

The cycle can be hard to break. For one, it can be easy to dismiss the abuser’s actions as brief episodes. Or rare. But focusing on the events ignores the larger pattern that keeps someone feeling unsafe. Another reason: victims might depend on their abuser for housing, income, or other types of support. And it may be hard for them to see other ways of getting those basic needs met.

Know the risk factors

IPV can happen to anyone. It cuts across lines of age, race, ethnicity, gender, and more. At the same time, non-white women are subject to domestic violence at higher rates. “Young people and those who are subject to inequalities are especially at risk,” says Alexander. “The same is true for those who’ve seen violence in the home. And those who are from groups with fewer resources.”

Other risk factors include:

  • Low income
  • Less education
  • Exposure to difficult or dangerous situations as a child
  • Unemployment
  • Being a member of a sexual minority
  • Severe mental health issues

How to find support

Help is available. It can be found safely, both in person and virtually.

For urgent help, call 911.

For non-emergencies, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) offers 24/7 private support. There are 3 ways to get in touch:

  • Call 1-800-799-7233. Or, TTY 1-800-787-3224
  • Chat live on the NDVH website
  • Text START to 88788

You can also look up local resources in all U.S. states and territories on the NDVH website.

It’s smart to create a safety plan, too. That means thinking through actions that can be taken before or during an event to lower risk. It can also involve steps that set the stage for leaving an abusive person and safely living on your own. The NDVH has a tool that walks you through the process.

AbleTo is also here to help

AbleTo therapists and coaches are trained to offer support. They can help participants look at unhelpful beliefs or thoughts that keep them locked in the abuse cycle. They can also connect participants to resources and referrals for long-term support.

And don’t forget: IPV is never your fault.

“All people deserve healthy, safe, and nurturing relationships with the ones they love,” says Alexander. Healing takes time. But it’s possible with the right care and resources.

Need some support?

AbleTo is here to help. From on-demand self care to virtual therapy and coaching, we make managing your mental wellness easy. Sign up and get the personalized support you deserve.

By Sarah Bruning

Sarah Bruning has been a journalist and content strategist for more than 15 years. Her work has appeared in leading publications including Women’s Health, Travel + Leisure, and Cosmopolitan.

Clinically reviewed by Sarah Dolling, LPC, Clinical Content Producer at AbleTo.

Photo by Transly Translation Agency/Unsplash. Individuals in photographs do not represent AbleTo participants.

The information featured on this site is general in nature. The site provides health information designed to complement your personal health management. It does not provide medical advice or health services and is not meant to replace professional advice or imply coverage of specific clinical services or products. The inclusion of links to other websites does not imply any endorsement of the material on such websites.