You may think domestic violence is limited to either physical abuse or bullying, but abuse is all about gaining and keeping power. The cycle of violence can continue to repeat itself and the abuse often worsens over time. Here are six ways abusers gain and maintain control over their victims.

Abusers focus on power and control regarding their victims. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota has coordinated law enforcement, criminal justice and human service agencies on the issue of domestic abuse to develop a unified response. They developed the Power and Control Wheel which offers an excellent explanation of male violence upon women (and can be adapted for other relationships).


  • Yelling and screaming
  • Name calling and making fun of the partner
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Threatening the partner
  • Threatening children and pets
  • Blaming
  • Using sarcasm


  • Withholding love
  • Intimidating
  • Finding fault
  • Humiliating
  • Withholding support
  • Threatening loved people people or things
  • Conning and manipulating
  • Playing mind games (gaslighting)
  • Intrusive surveillance
  • Hypervigilance
  • Isolating partner and family from supports
  • Triangulating against partner with loved ones and friends
  • Forbidding partner and children from getting counseling or therapy
  • Being Jealous of everything
  • preventing partner from attending school


  • Withholding money
  • Threatening to withhold money
  • Preventing partner to work
  • Controlling money and using an allowance
  • Sabotaging partner’s workplace such as visiting, calling, and checking
  • Refusing to pay for children especially if not the abuser’s children
  • Refusing to work and relying on partner to pay bills
  • Participating in illegal money-making activities


  • Hurting through punching, kicking, biting, etc.
  • Breaking items/throwing items
  • Holding the partner down with no escape
  • Harming the children or pets and making them watch the abuse
  • Keeping the partner trapped in the home


  • Punishing partner if partner doesn’t want sex
  • Unwanted roping and touching
  • Rigid sex roles/sex object
  • Using derogatory sexual terms
  • Forced sex/rape
  • Making inappropriate sexual comments especially when around others
  • Demeaning partner for partner’s looks and body
  • Having sex with other people and bringing home STDs or HIV
  • Engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviors around children such as displays of adult behavior with partner,
  • Sexualizing the children, gazing at the children sexually and commenting on their bodies, groping, and leering
  • Stalking


  • Making fun of partner’s religious/spiritual beliefs
  • Not allowing partner to attend services such as church or synagogue
  • Utilizing God or another deity as the cause for punishment (“you disobeyed me which means you disobeyed God”)
  • Not allowing the children to attend services
  • Utilizing religious texts to validate abuse and punishment
  • Not allowing partner to participate in any type of spiritually (hikes in nature, meditation, prayer) bullying about these practices

How To Cope: If this sounds like your relationship, seek safety immediately. Seek help from family and friends, from professionals such as social workers and counselors, move out, go to a domestic violence shelter, use a call-in help line, read information in books and online websites and blogs, seek protection from the police, and utilize all other help you can find. And remember, you no longer have to be harmed for you can get yourself and your children the help that is available.


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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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