How can I tell if my friend is in an emotionally or physically violent relationship?

Spartans for Safety - Intimate Partner and Domestic Violence

There is no way to tell for sure if someone is experiencing relationship violence. Those who are abused, and those who abuse, come in all personality types.  Most people experiencing relationship violence do not tell others what goes on privately. So how can you tell?

Signs to Look For

Injuries and Excuses

In some cases, bruises and injuries may occur frequently and be in obvious places. When this happens, the intent of the abuser is to keep the survivor isolated and trapped at home. If there are visible physical injuries as a result of an assault, the person being abused may be forced to miss school or work, or face the embarrassment and excuses of how the injuries occurred. In other cases, bruises and other outward injuries never occur. When there are frequent injuries seen by others, the survivor may talk about being clumsy, or have elaborate stories of how the injuries occurred. The truth about the source of injuries will not usually be told unless the survivor trusts the person they are telling and/or the survivor wants help to end the relationship.

Absences from Work or School

When severe abuse or other trauma related to violence occurs, the survivor may take time off from his/her normal schedule. If you see this happening, or the person is frequently late, this could be a sign of relationship violence occurring.

Low Self-Esteem

Some survivors have low self-esteem, while others have a great deal of confidence and esteem in other areas of their life (at work, as a parent, with hobbies, etc.) but not within their relationship. In terms of dealing with the relationship, a sense of powerlessness and low self-esteem may exist. A survivor may believe that she/he could not make it on her/his own without the abusive partner.

Abuser Makes Accusations of Affairs

This is a common tactic used by abusers as an attempt to isolate their partners and as an excuse for further abuse. Friends of the couple may observe this at times, but what is seen in public is usually only a small fraction of what the survivor experiences at home.

Personality Changes

People may notice that a very outgoing person, for instance, becomes quiet and shy around his/her partner. This happens because the survivor "walks on egg shells" when in the presence of the abusive partner. Accusations (of flirting, talking too loudly, or sharing too much information with others) have taught the survivor that it is easier to act a certain way around the abusive partner than to experience additional accusations or abuse in the future.

Fear of Conflict

As a result of being abused, some survivors may generalize the experience of powerlessness with other relationships. Conflicts with co-workers, friends, relatives, and neighbors can create a lot of anxiety. For many, it is easier to give in to whatever someone else wants than to challenge it. Asserting one's needs and desires begins to feel like a battle, and not worth the risks of losing.

Not Knowing What One Wants or How One Feels

For adults or children who have experienced violence from a loved one, the ability to identify feelings and wants, and to express them, may not exist. This could result in passive-aggressive behavior. Rather than telling others what they want, they say one thing but then express anger or frustration in an aggressive manner.

Abuser Blaming Others for Everything

The abuse, which usually includes the abuser blaming others for everything that goes wrong, is usually targeted at a partner or ex-partner. For example, a simple drive somewhere could turn into a violent situation if the abuser blames the partner for getting them lost. Coworkers and relatives may observe this type of behavior, and it may be directed at others as well.


You may notice the survivor taking all of the blame for things that go wrong in the relationship. If you notice this happening a lot, it may be a sign that one is taking all of the blame is being abused.

Aggressive or Care-Taking Behavior in Children

Children who live in violent homes may take that experience with them to school and to the playground. Often the class bully is a child who sees violence in his home (directed at a parent or at some or all of the children in the home). Children who seem very grown-up and are sensitive and attentive to others' needs may witness abuse at home as well.


Source: Michigan State University - Safeplace