You are in the CalmFamily

Relationships and domestic abuse

football domestic violence
Share this article:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Relationships and domestic abuse

football domestic violence
Share this article:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
This resource is categorised as:
This resource is listed in the following topics
football domestic violence

Recognising abusive relationships: raising the next generation

Relationships can begin as wonderful, joyous and exciting. Ideally, they develop into functional and mutually respectful, supportive companionship. However, some relationships develop into situations of domestic abuse, yet this dynamic is often unrecognised in its early stages. Sometimes people can find it difficult to assess their own relationship dynamic, to be sure it is truly healthy.

I believe that, in order to form healthy relationships, people need to trust their instincts.  So, we need to raise children who trust their own feelings, respect themselves, and expect respect from others. Sadly too many people have their instincts undermined, challenged or dismissed whilst growing up.  This is perpetuated throughout education and into adulthood.  When young people raise concerns about how they are treated they are ignored, even ridiculed. This trains young people not to trust their instincts when it comes to their treatment, to suffer in silence, to accept situations and treatment that make them uncomfortable. This makes it very hard to trust our instincts if something feels wrong in our adult lives.

Think about your child; what sort of relationships do you want for them when they grow up?  What qualities would you like them to bring to their relationships?  We often find it easier to identify the important aspects of a relationship when thinking of our children than when thinking about ourselves.  Does your own relationship look like one you would want for your child? 

What is a healthy relationship?

A healthy relationship is one in which both partners are kind, respectful, respected and supportive.  Additionally, when disagreements occur there is no physical or verbal violence, no threats, nor any intimidation. Both partners, given time to calm down, are willing to listen to and work with the other to find mutually acceptable solutions.  Your partner will want you to succeed, achieve and be happy in all areas of your life, and vice versa.  Sometimes you might go through difficult times, but ultimately you will communicate respectfully.    

What is an abusive relationship?

The most common dynamic for abusive relationships is a male perpetrator and a female victim.  However, this is not the only abusive dynamic, simply the most common.  Domestic abuse knows no bounds;  it affects people across every demographic of race, age, class, gender, and socio-economic or educational status.

Abuse and abusive relationships can take many forms. They may be physical violent, or there may be threats and intimidation. Abusive relationships are often controlling; this may be physically, sexually, emotionally, or financially controlling. Initially control can appear to be motivated by concern. Coercion can be disguised as romance, and jealousy as commitment. Sadly, sometimes, it is through lived experience of being in a disrespectful, unequal and abusive relationship that individuals first recognise the unhealthy dynamic, and it can take a lot of time to come to this realisation.

Sometimes doubts can exist early on in a relationship, but at other times as in the challenging story shared in this article.  However, we often normalise our own experience in relationships. There are many reasons for this: fear of relationship breakdown, a desire to hide abuse from others, or to minimise our experiences to fit a different narrative that we have created.  Sometimes victims feel so embarrassed and ashamed; ‘how on earth did I get myself in this situation?’

Abuse and self-blame:

Living in an abusive dynamic is harmful. Regardless of whether the abuse is physical, emotional, or financial, it is harmful. As a result of sustained experience of this harm, victims of abuse often internalise and reinforce the justification of the abuse. They internalise the abusive narrative and consequently come to believe and reinforce that they deserve, or are responsible for, the abuse. Additionally, victims may see the abuse as an expression of love or protection. As a result of ongoing undermining and disrespect self-blame is extremely common in victims of abuse, and self-esteem is frequently very low .

Abuse and mental health issues

Often one or both parties in an abusive relationship experiences mental health issues. Depression, low self-esteem, perinatal mental health issues, difficulties coming to terms with new parental roles, and post-traumatic stress are all more common in people experiencing abusive relationships. In some cases the abuse is the cause of the mental health issues. However, pre-existing mental health conditions can increase susceptibility to abuse, through range of factors, for example, lack of self-esteem leading to acceptance of abusive behaviours, support needs creating a situation of increased vulnerability, and many other ways.

It is common for perpetrators of abuse to experience mental health issues too. Perpetrators of abuse have often been victims of abuse, therefore abusive behaviours and relationships may seem normal. Low levels of self esteem and a desire to seize control when one feels powerless, even by controlling another person, are both common experiences for those struggling with mental health issues, and can be motivators of abusive patterns of behaviour. These behaviours are harmful. However, as many victims of abuse do not recognise their experiences as abusive, they may perpetuate patterns of abuse through their behaviour.

Neither mental health issues, nor past experience of abuse excuse abusive behaviours. Nobody should be forced to stay in a situation in which they are a victim of abuse, even if their abuser has mental health issues and is also a victim of abuse. However, for some victims of abuse, concern for their abuser’s mental wellbeing can make them unwilling to leave. Abusive relationships are complex; the distinctions we see clearly when looking at abusive relationships from the outside, are blurred to those involved.

Is your relationship abusive?

Red flags indicate that you may be experiencing abuse:

  • Frequently experiencing disrespectful treatment
  • Feeling unequal to your partner
  • Feeling scared of your partner
  • Having to work hard to prevent your partner from getting angry or upset
  • Experiencing physical, financial, or emotional control from a partner
antenatal depression anxiety and mental health issues

Getting help

It take a lot of courage and strength to seek support to leave an abusive relationship. There are lots of services with experience of supporting families through this. What happens next can depend on the service from whom you seek support and the immediate situation at the time. This means that support pathways may not all look the same. This can make it even more frightening to consider getting help, as it can feel like a leap into the unknown. This can be especially true when victims leave abusive relationships in an emergency, and call the police for help. It is extremely uncommon that victims of abuse seek support from the police when they first experience abuse.  Often victims only seek support when abuse escalates and the situation becomes critical.

If you recognise that you are in an abusive relationship help is available. You do not have to wait until you experience extreme violence. Many organisations can help you create a plan to leave and put support in place to make a frightening time less unpredictable. Additionally, you may have a friend who can help you to navigate the pathway so you don’t have to do it alone.  Leaving an abusive relationship is often a dangerous time.  Often you will need to make your plans in confidence to ensure your safety. It is very important to have appropriate support in place, and to confide only in people that you can trust. 

Calling the police

If you are in immediate danger, the police are there to protect you and your family.  If your partner is physically hurting you, damaging your home, intimidating you or your children then you can call the police for emergency support.  The police should send someone with experience of supporting victims of domestic violence.  You can, if you are able, ask for an officer with experience of domestic abuse.  Experienced officers may be able to offer better support and more effectively signpost you to the ideal services.

There is no requirement for you to press charges against the perpetrator if you do not want to.  You can call the police to help you in the moment even if you do not wish to be involved in a prosecution.

If you involve the police you are still able to contact other support services. You do not have to wait for police agreement to access other forms of support

The role of social care

Many victims of abuse fear social care input and support from fear that they will separate them from their children, It is the responsibility and role of social care services to keep families together wherever possible. It is also their responsibility to safeguard children. 

Social care services work with a families to support them to achieve a healthier dynamic.  Unfortunately, with many services struggling financially, the nature of the social care support that victims may receive can vary and you may find yourselves navigating a situation without a clear pathway. Getting the right support can depend on victims knowing where to go to access the necessary support, and having the time and energy to jump through hoops. 

Organisations that can help

The free 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership with Womans Aid and Refuge) is 0808 2000 247

Woman’s Aid and Refuge support families experiencing domestic violence or abuse.

Look for your local Womans Resource Centre who will also haveh experience of supporting and guiding families who have experienced abuse. 

The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) can support anyone that is being threatened with domestic violence to apply for an emergency court injunction.  This can be issued within 24hrs of making contact with them.  The NCDV work in close partnership with police, solicitors and other support agencies like Womens Aid and Refuge to help victims obtain swift protection. 

postnatal doula emotional support empathy

How can I help someone in an abusive relationship?

If someone confides in you that they are experiencing abuse or violence then respond with care. It can be easy to inadvertently say something that can be unhelpful or dismissive.  The first time a victim confides in someone they may feel they have said too much, have made too big a deal, or may not disclose the full extent of their abuse.   They can subsequently regret saying it out loud, particularly if the person in whom they confide suddenly expects them to do something about it. 

Accept them where they are

Many victims are not ready to leave an abusive situation. It can be difficult to hear that a friend or loved one is being abused, and the unwillingness or inability to leave can seem incomprehensible. This lack of understanding can cause confidants to become judgmental of the victim or the situation. The victim may still only be beginning to acknowledge the unhealthy, damaging and abusive relationship dynamics.

Understanding their use or avoidance of terminology

Many victims of abusive relationships struggle to use the terminology of abuse. They may feel that their experiences don’t qualify as abuse; they may underplay abuse, or have normalised abusive behaviours. It can take time to recognise the extent of the abuse, and to a confidant the need to wait can be frustrating. Some people do not wish to refer to themselves as a victim or later; a survivor.  Whilst to an outsider there may appear to be a clear perpetrator and victim, it is unlikely either of them see it that way. 

There can also be a lot of fear.  Fear of the future, of decision making, of financial and housing instability, of threats, of harm. There may be fear that the perpetrator will self-harm or kill themself, which can cause a victim to feel to blame. Victims may fear having their children taken away, either by social care services, or by the perpetrator. 

How to respond

If someone confides in you, listen. Validate their experiences and feelings. Do not challenge their account or minimise their experience. Ask them what support you can offer them. Let them know that you are willing to help them, now or in the future. Respect their boundaries if they have shared all that they currently feel able. Offer practical help such as keeping a small bag of clothes for each family member in case they ever have to leave suddenly.

The book ‘Helping Her Get Free’ by Susan Brewster is a wonderful resource for those that have a friend or family member that is in a damaging relationship.

Guidance from the NHS website:

“If you’re worried a friend is being abused, let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong.

They might not be ready to talk, but try to find quiet times when they can talk if they choose to.

If someone confides in you that they’re suffering domestic abuse:

  • listen, and take care not to blame
  • acknowledge it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse
  • give them time to talk, but don’t push them to talk if they don’t want to
  • acknowledge they’re in a frightening and difficult situation
  • tell them nobody deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what the abuser has said
  • support them as a friend – encourage them to express their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions
  • don’t tell them to leave the relationship if they’re not ready – that’s their decision
  • ask if they have suffered physical harm – if so, offer to go with them to a hospital or GP
  • help them report the assault to the police if they choose to
  • be ready to provide information on organisations that offer help for people experiencing domestic abuse”

Getting help as, or for, an abuser

Sadly there are limited support options available to perpetrators of violence. Many abusers do not accept that their behaviour is unacceptable or damaging. To benefit from support abusers need to recognise the impact of their actions and want to change. There are some support options available for abusers who recognise that their behaviour is damaging.

An abuser getting support for their behaviour does not mean that they no longer pose any risk. Seeking support can be an attempt to manipulate a victim into staying in an unsafe situation and continuing to exert control.

If you’re a perpetrator of abuse looking for help to change

Last but not least, if you think you are a perpetrator of violence or abuse, if you are struggling with a relationship and your need to control things by using anger or force there is support.

Contact your local CAFCASS office and talk to someone about the Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme.

About the author

Katie Olliffe is a home schooling Mum to 2 boys, Stepmum to 3, and partner to Rich.

She is a Birth and postnatal doula, a CalmFamily Consultant, a public speaker and writer, and a Rewind birth trauma practitioner

Katie is a campaigner for: Woman and children’s rights, changes to behavioural policies in schools, and regarding domestic violence and whole family support. She loves reading, rollerskating and cuddling babies. She also loves talking about normal infant sleep and brain development.

You can find Katie at

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Parents & families
Resources by category
Resources by topic
Resources by type

Post comments


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Online groups

Ask in a forum

Find a consultant