Relationship abuse, also known as intimate partner abuse, domestic abuse or domestic violence, can happen to anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, and it is never the fault of the person receiving the abuse. 

Some of the terminology and concepts around relationship abuse may feel alien to you, as there is a pervasive stereotype of domestic abuse as a middle-aged husband physically abusing a wife behind closed doors. That’s why we talk about relationship abuse at the University, but we are using these terms interchangeably. 

Relationship abuse can take many forms, some of which we explore below, and there are lots of resources to look further into what might indicate that a relationship is abusive. Many of these elements of abuse are not physical, but might be emotional, or financial, and might be an ongoing pattern or an individual incident. All elements of relationship abuse ultimately come down to one person exercising power and control over another person. 

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Relationship abuse refers specifically to relationships between adult intimate partners or family members, whether or not they are living in the same household. It does not refer to bullying or harassment from friends or housemates – if you are experiencing this, there is more information about support for students experiencing bullying and harassment here.

What are the forms of relationship abuse?

There are many forms of abusive and controlling behaviour, and these are some categories of abusive behaviours with some examples. These are not exclusive or exhaustive, but meant to provide some prompts which you might use to reflect on your experiences within your relationship. 

Control - 
  • Controlling what you do and where you go, who you can see or talk to, and reducing your contact with the outside world.

Emotional Abuse - 
  • Making you feel bad about yourself, playing mind games and gaslighting you, threatening to harm or kill themselves. 

Intimidation - 
  • Making you feel afraid through threats, violence, damaging property, or stalking. 

Minimizing, denying, and blaming - 
  • Making light of abusive behaviours, saying they didn’t happen or don’t matter, or saying that it’s your fault that their behaviour is abusive. 

Economic Abuse - 
  • Controlling your spending, preventing or requiring you to have a job, interfering with your work or education, taking money from you. 

Digital Abuse - 
  • Requiring access to your personal accounts, posting about you online in ways that you don’t like, sending messages pretending to be you, using spyware or tracking your devices.

Physical and sexual abuse - 
  • Sexual harassment, abuse, or rape, making sexual demands which you may feel obligated to fulfill, causing you to feel in pain or unsafe in any way. 

If you are worried about your relationship, there are a lot of resources to help you. 

If you aren’t sure whether you might be experiencing relationship abuse, it can be helpful to talk to someone impartial about what you are experiencing, and we would very strongly recommend you get in touch with a Wellbeing Adviser. 

We take incidents of relationship abuse very seriously, and if you have experienced such behaviour there is more information here about speaking to an adviser, reporting anonymously, and/or accessing wellbeing support.


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