Dating and Domestic Violence Information

Dating or domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is a pattern of ongoing power and control by one dating partner over another. Examples of dating or domestic violence include threatening a partner or their family, coercing them into doing something they don’t want to do, constantly belittling them, controlling what they can and cannot do, deciding who they can go out with and when, isolating them from friends and family, controlling their finances and access to resources, or physically hitting, kicking, punching, slapping, or scratching. Dating and domestic violence can also include sexual violence or stalking.

Domestic violence can happen to people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and religions. It occurs in both heterosexual and LGBTQ relationships. While it is important to remember that we all have different cultural practices, beliefs, and experiences that shape our view of what intimate relationships look like, everyone deserves to feel safe and respected.

No one deserves to be abused. Abuse is never the victim’s fault! If you have been the victim of dating or domestic violence, you are not alone. Help is available. Please see the links to the right for resources and for more information about dating and domestic violence.

The Power and Control Wheel

The behaviors associated with relationship abuse all stem from one person's use of power and control over another. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minn., developed a tool called the power and control wheel [PDF] that illustrates these relationships. The power and control wheel has been adapted to reflect the experience of college students here at UW-Madison.

Click on each topic to learn more:

What Dating and Domestic Violence Looks Like

Abusive behaviors can take many forms. The following information will focus on abuse between intimate partners (dating, living together, or married). If you are dealing with abuse in another kind of relationship, some of this information may still be useful, but there are additional resources on- and off-campus that can help you.

Physical abuse is any act or behavior that inflicts or is intended to inflict injury or pain. Examples of physical abuse include:

  • pushes, slaps, punches, kicks, chokes, bites or shoves you
  • throws objects at you or uses a weapon against you
  • prevents you from getting medical or mental health care
  • abandons you in a dangerous place.

Emotional, verbal, and mental abuse is any act or behavior used to diminish a person’s sense of worth or self-esteem. Emotional abuse is the most common type of abuse in intimate relationships. Examples of emotional abuse include when a person:

  • threatens to harm your family or possessions
  • deprives you of money, affection, sleep, or attention
  • harasses you at work or in class
  • demeans, belittles, embarrasses, insults, or ridicules you
  • isolates you from your family, friends, personal time, or other interests
  • threatens suicide or self-harm
  • criticizes you sexually
  • brags to you about sexual experiences with previous partners
  • has affairs with others when you’ve agreed to a monogamous relationship
  • makes derogatory comments about your physical appearance

Sexual abuse is when one person uses sex/sexual activity to control or humiliate another person. Examples of sexual abuse include when a person:

  • rapes you
  • forces you to participate in unwanted sexual acts, including sexual acts with others
  • has affairs with others when you’ve agreed to a monogamous relationship
  • pressures you to be sexual through verbal/emotional coercion.
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Dating and Domestic Violence: Understanding the Basics

Abuse can be done by anyone, to anyone, at any time.

The only thing that is almost always true is that the abuser is someone very close to you. It is hard to understand why someone that you love or loved, or someone who loves or loved you, would hurt you so much. For these and other reasons, abuse is often hard to recognize and deal with.

"My partner can't possibly be abusive."

Many people do not recognize the early warning signs or red flags of abuse in a relationship. Abuse can begin with small events, such as with threats, derogatory remarks, or excessive jealousy.

However, it is important to know that abuse usually escalates. Although the abuse may begin with behaviors like name-calling or threats of violence (e.g., punching a fist through a wall, destroying objects), it can escalate to more intense physically, emotionally, verbally and/or sexually abusive acts. The abuse can become life-threatening.

"It was just one time."

Abuse in intimate relationships is also complicated by the love and loyalty you may feel toward your partner. You might wonder if a partner’s behavior is simply an “isolated event” or want to excuse a partner’s actions as being due to “too much alcohol” or a “hard day.” It is important to remember that an act is abusive if it causes someone to feel threatened or violated even once.

"Maybe it's my fault"

A person who uses abusive tactics often blames the victim for provoking the abuse. Fear and intimidation by your partner can make you afraid to leave. Remember, your partner is the one who has chosen to be abusive. As the victim, abuse is never your fault.

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Warning Signs or Red Flags of an Abuser

The list that follows identifies some personal characteristics that may indicate that someone you know or are involved with has a tendency to be abusive. These are meant as general guidelines to help you identify a relationship that is or may become dangerous. You may be in danger of abuse if:

  • Your partner demonstrates ownership of you, or possessiveness, and/or often says things like “I can’t live without you,” or “you are my whole world.”
  • You feel like your partner tries to dictate your behavior, privileges, or responses and opinions.
  • It seems like your partner blames you for his/her problems or behavior.
  • You feel like your partner tries to isolate you: s/he doesn’t allow you to see your family or friends, needs to constantly know where you are, or expects you to spend all of your free time with him/her.
  • Your partner does things in public to embarrass or humiliate you.
  • Your partner criticizes your appearance, weight, clothes, etc.
  • Your partner angers easily.
  • Your partner seems to be jealous of your family, friends, or job.
  • You are nervous or afraid of ending the relationship because of things your partner has said.
  • Your partner is violent toward other people.
  • Your partner is violent toward pets or other animals.
  • It seems like your partner has a dual personality (e.g., charming in public, aggressive in private).
  • Your partner blames most or all past relationship problems on his/her ex-partners.
  • You feel like your partner has no regard for your physical or mental health.
  • You feel like your partner is overly attentive: s/he showers you with gifts or seems “too good to be true” early in the relationship.
  • It seems like your partner gets attached too fast — s/he professes love when you have only known each other for a short time.
  • You feel like your partner never listens to you or respects your opinion.

If you recognize your own behavior in this list, you may be abusive in your relationship. There are resources that can help you take control of your behavior and end the abuse.

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Emotional Health and Safety

Confidential help is available at no cost from UHS End Violence on Campus (EVOC) and Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS).

To build a safer, healthier life for yourself, you will need to deal with feelings such as helplessness, depression, and fear that often result from abuse. The abusive person meant to cause these feelings and you do not have to hold on to them.

You may find it helpful to consider the following questions and ideas:

What can I do if I recognize warning signs of abuse in a new relationship?

  • Tell your partner that you don’t like his or her behavior, if you feel safe doing this.
  • Consider ending the relationship.
  • Tell a friend or someone else who is close to you.
  • Talk to a counselor.

How can I communicate with an abusive person?

  • Write a letter or e-mail if you don’t want to have a conversation.
  • If you are going to speak to the person, plan ahead of time what you will say and practice saying it.
  • If you need to talk to the person, use someone else’s phone, talk online, or meet in a safe place (i.e., in a public place that you can easily leave).
  • Set limits.
    • “I am writing to you because...”
    • “I don’t want you to write back.”
    • “I have to leave within half an hour. I am only going to talk to you about the following things...”
    • “If I don’t like what you are doing or saying I will leave.”
  • Ask a friend to be with you while you are on the phone, to come with you to meet the person, etc.

What can I do to feel stronger and build supportive connections and relationships?

  • Get involved with organizations working to prevent abuse.
  • Consider joining a support group through UHS, the LGBT Campus Center, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Services or another organization.
  • Look at libraries on and off campus, the PAVE office library the Campus Women's Center library for books about surviving abuse, building healthy relationships, or working to prevent violence.


You may also want to consider ways to handle stress in your life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Sleep — try to get 7 to 8 hours per night.
  • Exercise regularly and in moderation.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Notice the things that you say to yourself. Practice being kinder and more understanding. For example, instead of thinking, “I’ve really messed up,” you could think, “I don’t have to repeat my mistakes. I’m glad that one’s over!”
  • Minimize your use of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.
  • Laugh at one stressful event every day — more than one if you can.
  • Play — your body and your brain both need some fun time.
  • Set attainable but challenging goals. When you reach them, celebrate. When you don’t reach them, set new ones.
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Know when to take control. Being in control of your life will help reduce stress, but trying to control things that are out of your hands will only stress you out more.
  • Focus on the present. It’s where your future will come from.
  • Seek support. You may find support from friends, family, and others whom you know and trust. You may also find it through Mental Health.

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