Domestic violence can be difficult to identify, especially for the person experiencing it. People sometimes misunderstand domestic violence and think it is only physical abuse when actually it can be emotional, financial and/or sexual abuse as well. Abusers often manipulate victims so that they feel they are to blame for the abuse. Sometimes LGBT abusers will try to tell their partners that “this is how it is in an LGBT relationship”. Abusers often promise to change their behavior, and the hope for that positive change can keep a victim from identifying the pattern of abuse in the relationship. Domestic violence occurs at roughly the same rate among same gender couples as with heterosexual couples.

Abusers or perpetrators use a wide variety of abusive tactics. There are five general categories of abusive tactics:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Financial Abuse
  • Identity Abuse

The categories are not exclusive. Some abusive tactics may fit into more than one category. A threat of physical harm, for example, could be seen as emotional abuse and as physical abuse. The categories are just a way to think about abuse.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse can be defined as the threat of harm or any forceful physical behavior that intentionally or accidentally causes bodily harm or property destruction.

Physical violence is partner abuse when it is intended to enhance the power and control of the abuser over the partner. If the partner is fearful of the abuser, if the partner modifies his behavior in response to the assault or potential assault, or if the partner intentionally maintains a particular routine of behaviors in an effort to avoid violence – despite his preference not to do so – then this is partner abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any forced or coerced sexual act or behavior motivated to acquire power and control over the partner. It is not only forced sexual contact but also contact that demeans or humiliates the partner and instigates feelings of shame or vulnerability – particularly in regards to the body, sexual performance or sexuality.

Emotional/Psychological Abuse

Emotional abuse is any use of words, voice, action or lack of action meant to control, hurt or demean another person. Emotional abuse typically includes ridicule, intimidation or coercion. Verbal abuse usually is included in this category. This type of abuse is more difficult to define and to identify than physical abuse. At some time in their relationship almost all couples say or even shout things they later regret. Emotional abuse, however, is repeated hurtful exchanges with disregard for the partner’s feelings aimed at gaining power and/or exerting control over the partner. For example, telling the partner over and over again that “no one else would have you” or repeatedly calling the partner “stupid” or “worthless”.

Emotional abuse is present in almost all relationships where physical abuse occurs, and it can have serious and long-term consequences for the partner – eroding self-esteem and confidence, as well as instilling feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

A frequent condition of abuse is seeking to socially isolate the partner. The abuser cuts off their partner from contact with other people, such as family, friends and children, by creating a social deprivation that leads the partner to be more reliant, or dependent, on the abuser. Social isolation also prevents the partner from seeking support from others or successfully leaving the relationship.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is the use or misuse, without the partner’s freely given consent, of the financial or other monetary resources of the partner or of the partnership.

Identity Abuse

Identity abuse is using personal characteristics to demean, manipulate and control the partner. Some of these tactics overlap with other forms of abuse, particularly emotional abuse. This category is comprised of the social “isms”, including racism, sexism, ageism, able-ism, beauty-ism, as well as homophobia

Are you being abused?

Review the following list of signs of possible abuse. Are you in a relationship with someone who:

  • Keeps you from spending time with friends or family members?
  • Makes you account for your time when apart from him/her?
  • Is excessively jealous and possessive?
  • Makes unreasonable demands for your attention?
  • Blames you for all the arguments or problems in the relationship?
  • Wants to make all the decisions?
  • Invades your privacy – opening your mail, reading your e-mail or going through your personal belongings?
  • Gets angry for no apparent reason?
  • Seems like two different people – one is charming or loving, the other is mean and hurtful?
  • Lies in order to confuse you?
  • Criticizes, ridicules, humiliates or belittles you?
  • Controls your finances or feels entitled to your financial support?
  • Damages your property?
  • Harasses you at work or school?
  • Threatens to out you at work, to your family or to others?
  • Criticizes your body and appearance?
  • Prevents you from practicing safe sex?
  • Forces or coerces you to have sex or hurts you during sex?
  • Becomes angry if you don’t go along with his/her sexual demands?
  • Blames his/her behavior on alcohol, drugs or his/her own history of abuse?
  • Pressures you to use alcohol or other drugs?
  • Threatens you with physical harm or makes you feel afraid?
  • Pushes, shoves, grabs, punches, hits or strikes you with hands or fists?
  • Threatens or assaults you with weapons, such as household objects or knives?
  • Manipulates you with the constant threat of mood changes and impending rage? Has you “walking on eggs” or living with constant stress, anxiety or fear?

Get More Information

If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, you may want to learn more about partner abuse and take a serious look at your relationship. Get in depth information by visiting the Gay Man’s Domestic Violence Project’s (GMDVP) website:

A very helpful book is Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them by David Island and Patrick Letellier.

Another resource is speaking with a Client Advocate on GMDVP’s 800 line: 800-832-1901 or contacting an Advocate by e-mail at


Adapted from materials found at the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project website: