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13 behaviours that abusers use in relationships

This Valentine’s Day, the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Partnership is reminding people that some behaviours used in relationships are not love and many are illegal.

A phrase often used by abusers is ‘it’s because I love you’ but the behaviours below are not part of a healthy relationship. The list below doesn’t include all types of abusive behaviour, but if you recognise that you are using or experiencing these behaviours, support information is included below.

1) Gaslighting

This is done over time, sometimes months or years, and is when someone leads you to doubt yourself and your state of mind. It might be small things like telling you what they want for dinner and then later saying they said something else, and they will tell you that you must have forgotten. This is a form of control.

2) Repeatedly putting you down

Persistent name calling, mocking behaviour or saying things that make you feel bad is emotional abuse.

3) Preventing you from seeing friends or family

If your partner isolates you from the people you love, telling you that you cannot see friends or family for whatever reason, this is another form of control.

They might listen in to your calls or not let you visit friends and family and refuse to let them visit your home. They will often come up with reasons why such as “they aren’t good for you” or “we don’t need anyone else”.

4) Depriving you of basic needs

A partner could deprive you of certain foods or clothes, they can even stop you accessing medical help, but this is all illegal. This type of abuse is often used against people who need support in their daily living activities due to disability or ill health. It can start off as seeming to be caring, but can end up with them withholding things you need such as medication or help with personal care.

5) Controlling your finances

Some abusers insist on controlling all the money in the relationship, even the victim’s own wages or benefits – this is economic abuse. Sometimes they will provide an ‘allowance’ to purchase food or items for children but this is deliberately not enough and they will then punish the victim for not being able to keep within the budget.

Often this is done whilst they spend large amounts of money on themselves. Some abusers will use pressure to make someone take out a loan but the money must be handed to the abuser or they will take out credit cards in the victim’s name without their knowledge.

6) Removing your freedom

This could be when a partner takes over aspects of the other person’s everyday life such as where they go, when they can go and even when they can sleep. They may also accompany you to certain places such as medical appointments and insist on speaking for you.

7) Threats

If a partner threatens you to hold power over you, this is illegal. Common threats include reporting you to social services and that your children will be removed from you, or threatening to ‘out’ a same sex partner to work colleagues and family when they want this information kept private.

8) Sharing explicit images of you

New laws surrounding ‘revenge porn’ make it against the law for someone to share intimate photographs of you with anyone, whether that is on or offline.

9) Scaring you

Abuse is not always physical violence, but if they are doing something which frightens you then they are committing an offence.

This can include angry gestures, shouting down to you, threatening you, destroying your possessions or using their physical size to intimidate you.

10) Damaging your property

This includes when the abuser breaks your items such as your phone. Not only can this be part of coercive control, but it is also a criminal damage offence.

11) Forcing you to do things you don’t want to do

A partner may force you to do things you do not want to do such as committing crimes, not allowing you to tell anyone about your relationship or even forcing you into sex.

12) Committing sexual acts

Committing sexual acts on anyone, including your partner, while sleeping is illegal.

13) Tracking devices

Using tracking devices on mobile phones or setting up spyware on laptops is illegal. You might not even know the software has been installed.

If you recognise any of these signs in your own behaviour, confidential help with abusive behaviour is available from Respect on its free helpline on 0808 802 4040.

Domestic abuse help and support

Domestic violence or abuse can happen to anyone and support is available:

• Call 0808 2000 247, the free 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline run by Refuge, or visit

• Men can call the Men’s Advice Line free on 0808 801 0327 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) or ManKind on 01823 334 244 –

• Galop provides support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence –

• Refuge has information about tech abuse and how you can keep yourself safe from tracking devices –

• In an emergency, call 999.

Local Support