What is relationship abuse?

It can be hard to work out if your relationship is going through a rough patch or something more sinister. The Mix talks you through the warning signs of abuse.

Sad girl looking out window

Love should never hurt.

We’re really glad you’re reading this. It means you’ve taken the first, very hard step of looking at your relationship and trying to work out if something isn’t right.

There are all sorts of legal answers to the question: what is abuse? But usually the answer comes from inside you. “Ask yourself, ‘does your relationship feel right to you?'” says Jon Brown from the NSPCC. “You might not even have the word ‘no’ yet, just a feeling that something isn’t right and you’re being made to do things you don’t want to do.”

Am I being emotionally abused?

Abuse doesn’t just have to be physical – like them hitting you – or sexual. If they’re trying to control you and your life, this is also abusive. Jon says the following are warning signs.

  • You feel like they don’t listen to you
  • They pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do
  • They get jealous very easily
  • They’re constantly putting you down
  • They make you feel guilty about seeing your family or friends, or stop you seeing them entirely
  • They get worse if they’re drunk, high, or have taken other drugs
  • They try and control what you wear
  • You feel they’re controlling your money, or you having/getting a job

If these sound familiar, then you’re being abused. You can visit the government’s This is Abuse website for young people in abusive relationships.

Am I being sexually abused by my partner?

Just because it feels like we’re expected to have sex with our boyfriends and girlfriends doesn’t mean we have to.

If your boyfriend or girlfriend forces you into doing anything sexual that you don’t want to, then it’s abuse. And it’s far more common than you think. Over 97% of calls to Rape Crisis centres are from victims who knew their attackers.

You may be pressured physically, with them holding you down and forcing you to do something, or they could emotionally manipulate you into taking naked photos. Or it could be they threaten to break up with you, or tell everyone that you’re frigid, or tell you you’d do it if you loved them. All of this is abuse.

You don’t have to specifically say ‘no’ out loud for it to be abuse, either. You may feel too scared to refuse, or too tense to talk. This doesn’t excuse them from doing sexual things with you if you haven’t consented.

I think I’m in an abusive relationship. Should I talk to them about it?

“If you’re ticking off those potential warning signs we tend to say ‘leave the relationship’,” says Jon. “Although we realise this can be daunting.”

If you think it’s safe to, it’s worth having an honest conversation with your partner about their behaviour and how it makes you feel. If their reaction is just to dismiss you and say ‘you’re talking rubbish’, then we’re afraid there isn’t much hope things will improve. Always be mindful of any potentially manipulative behaviour, too. Trust your instincts.

If you’re worried about talking to them then speak to someone else first – either a friend, family member, or even someone here at The Mix. They could provide some advice and ensure you feel supported.

Who should I talk to?

Anyone you trust. Childline is a good organisation to call, or you could try talking to your GP, someone at school, or even your parents. The important thing is to find someone who listens to you and does something about what you’re telling them.

“Often young people try and navigate themselves out of unhealthy relationships, but just end up feeling more trapped,” says Jon. “Hoping it will go away is not really an option; chances are things will get worse. Talking to someone is definitely the best place to start.”

It’s hard to leave someone you’re in love with – even if they’re abusing you. We totally get that. Opening up does help though, so if you want more community support, use our discussion boards to share your story anonymously and talk to others. Or follow the ‘Next Steps’ links at the bottom of this article for further advice and support.

Use our relationship tool to understand your relationship dynamic, and what you can do if it’s not as healthy as it should be.

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Next Steps

  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • Refuge offers advice and support to victims of domestic violence. 0808 2000 247
  • Rape Crisis offers support and advice to victims of rape and sexual assault, no matter how long ago the attack was. 0808 802 99 99
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.



By Holly Bourne

Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo of sad girl by Shutterstock