What Is Intimate Partner Violence?

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What Is Intimate Partner Violence?

Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence (IPV), also referred to as domestic abuse or domestic violence, is a form of abuse that occurs in romantic relationships, by current or former partners or spouses.

Intimate partner violence involves abusive or aggressive behavior that is meant to frighten, hurt, manipulate, or control someone. It may involve a series of episodes over several years or a single episode that can have a lasting impact.

Intimate partner violence is considered to be a major global public health issue. In fact, it is estimated that in the United States, it is the most common but least reported crime.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men in the United States have experienced some form of intimate partner violence during their lifetime.

The CDC also notes that approximately 20% of homicides are committed by intimate partners and that over 50% of the women murdered in the United States are killed by current or former male partners.

This article explores the types, signs, causes, and impact of intimate partner violence.

If you or a loved one are a victim of intimate partner violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates. 

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Types of Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence can take many different forms, which can include:

  • Sexual abuse: Forcing an intimate partner to participate in a sex act without their explicit consent. Sexual abuse also includes any sexual contact between an adult and a partner who is below the age of 18.
  • Physical abuse: Hurting or attempting to hurt someone by punching, kicking, slapping, hitting, biting, pinching, burning, strangling, grabbing, choking, or shoving them. Physical abuse also includes actions such as throwing things, banging doors, or punching walls.
  • Emotional abuse: Undermining the person’s self-worth by criticizing them constantly, gaslighting them, calling them names, isolating them from their family and friends, monitoring their activities, and trying to prevent them from working or doing things they enjoy.
  • Psychological abuse: Terrorizing the person, playing mind games with them, or threatening to harm them or their loved ones.
  • Financial abuse: Maintaining control over joint finances, withholding access to money, and tracking the person’s spending. Financial abuse also includes preventing an intimate partner from working, studying, or taking other steps to become financially independent.
  • Stalking: A pattern of behavior intended to harass, annoy, frighten, or harm the person. Stalking can involve behaviors such as phoning the person repeatedly, mailing them letters or gifts, following them as they go about their day, or finding ways to spy on them while they’re at home or work.
  • Online abuse: Using email, social media, dating apps, and other digital platforms to harass, abuse, stalk, threaten, bully, or manipulate an intimate partner.

Signs of Intimate Partner Violence

These are some of the indications that someone is a victim of intimate partner violence:

  • Being agitated or visibly upset
  • Displaying drastic or sudden changes in behavior
  • Becoming unresponsive and withdrawing into themselves
  • Displaying changes in personality such as lower self-esteem and confidence
  • Always checking in with their partner
  • Being excessively worried about pleasing their partner
  • Skipping out on social or work activities without a reason
  • Seeming nervous or scared around their partner
  • Having injuries like black eyes, bruises, cuts, wounds, broken teeth, or fractured bones
  • Making excuses for their injuries such as “I fell,” or “I bumped into the door”
  • Bleeding or having bruises, bloodstains, or torn clothing around genital areas

Causes of Intimate Partner Violence

These are some of the factors that can lead to intimate partner violence, according to a 2018 study:

  • Cultural factors: Historically, many cultures have granted men a sense of ownership when it comes to women, allowing them to chastise or beat women if they deem necessary. In intimate relationships particularly, men were considered the custodians of women’s sexuality and the family’s honor, therefore any acts by a woman that were perceived as violating this sense of honor were considered punishable.
  • Social factors: Victims are often blamed for being abused, which can make it hard for others to speak up about being abused. Furthermore, women’s voices continue to be underrepresented in media, politics, the judicial system, and other positions of power.
  • Legal factors: Police and other law enforcement agencies sometimes hesitate to intervene and help victims of intimate partner violence, and it is often considered to be a private family matter. Abusive partners are allowed more leniency than strangers who have committed similar crimes.
  • Economic factors: Lower economic status is linked to a greater risk of intimate partner violence.
  • Environmental factors: Growing up in an abusive environment and having witnessed or experienced domestic abuse can make someone more likely to be abusive toward their intimate partners. This phenomenon is known as the cycle of abuse.
  • Substance use: Frequently using substances such as drugs and alcohol can make someone more likely to be a violent or aggressive partner.

Impact of Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence can cause physical and psychological damage that persists long after the abuse ends.

These are some of the effects of intimate partner violence:

  • Injuries, which can be serious or fatal in some cases
  • Hearing or vision loss
  • Lasting physical damage
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Unwanted pregnancies, which can result in dangerous complications due to unsafe or illegal abortions
  • Mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders
  • Physical health issues such as heart problems, digestive difficulties, reproductive issues, nervous system conditions, and muscle and bone disorders
  • Low self-esteem and a feeling of being unwanted, powerless, hopeless, and ashamed
  • Trust issues, difficulty with relationships, and a tendency to engage in risky behaviors
  • Difficulty functioning at work or school

A Word From Verywell

Intimate partner violence is a major issue not just in the United States but around the world. It can be traumatic to experience and cause long-lasting physical and psychological damage—or even lead to death. 

It’s important to identify intimate partner violence and take steps to prevent it because the victims are our family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. While we may stereotype victims of intimate partner violence, it’s important to remember that anyone can be a victim, regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, race, faith, or class.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing intimate partner violence.

  2. United Nations. What is domestic abuse?

  3. Li S, Zhao F, Yu G. Childhood maltreatment and intimate partner violence victimization: A meta-analysis. Child Abuse Negl. 2019;88:212-224. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.11.012

  4. City Government of Annapolis, Maryland. Myths about domestic violence.

  5. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Types and signs of abuse.

  6. Patra P, Prakash J, Patra B, Khanna P. Intimate partner violence: Wounds are deeper. Indian J Psychiatry. 2018;60(4):494-498. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_74_17

  7. Greene CA, Haisley L, Wallace C, Ford JD. Intergenerational effects of childhood maltreatment: A systematic review of the parenting practices of adult survivors of childhood abuse, neglect, and violence. Clin Psychol Rev. 2020;80:101891. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2020.101891

  8. Nemours Foundation. Abuse.

  9. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Emotional and verbal abuse. Updated February 15, 2021.

  10. Department of Human Services. Domestic violence crisis and prevention.

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.