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Intimate Partner Abuse Screen




Abusive Relationships - What Is the Difference between Being Abusive and Being an Abuser?

domestic violence consulting expert


By Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.

What is the difference between “being abusive” and “being an abuser?” I hear this question by people trying to determine if they are entangled in intimate partner violence, even when they don’t know this term. What they want to know is: Am I in a dangerously abusive relationship?

I think being abusive is a rather general way of describing behavior that violates you as a person; your rights, your space, your choices, yourself. It can come out of frustration, stress, lowered inhibitions, insecurity, fear, vulnerability, or any combination of the above.


What is an Abuser?


Being an abuser, on the other hand in the classical sense, refers to a person that fulfills a specific criteria. And when engaged in an intimate relationship with this person, a specific criteria of defining characteristics exist which are "intimate partner violence."


The criteria for intimate partner violence consists of: possessiveness, controlling behavior, lack of empathy, externalization of blame, isolation of victimized partner, and the use of battering to create and maintain a relationship of unequal power.


How to Know if Intimate Partner Violence Is, or Is Not, in Your Relationship


Many people know this cluster of symptoms, but fail to recognize how they actually manifest in their lives. I have found in working with people over the years that when I bring attention to the subtle relationship interaction patterns in their daily lives, the light goes off for them in a way far more compelling than their simply trying to match the primary characteristics defining intimate partner violence to their relationship.


Further and equally valuable is the fact that people can discover if their relationship fulfills the criteria for intimate partner violence and if it does not. Often people will say they are dealing with an abuser, when the fact is their partner is abusive at times but doesn’t actually fulfill the criteria for an intimate partner abuser.


The Value of Knowing Your Truth about Intimate Partner Abuse


Knowing this distinction can set you on a more productive road to remedying your relationship conflict. Without this understanding, you could be pursuing interventions inappropriate to your circumstances and even worse potentially hazardous to your safety.


If you are asking the question, “Am I in a dangerously abusive relationship?” then you deserve to have the answer...if not for yourself, for the children that may be a twinkle in your eye today.


If you are longing to know whether your relationship fulfills the criteria for intimate partner violence, visit and see the Intimate Partner Abuse Screen. Dr Jeanne King, Ph.D. is founding director of Partners in Prevention, dedicated to helping domestic abuse survivors and their advocates.

This series of eInsights is presented to you by Partners in Prevention, a nonprofit organization. If you find this eInsight article useful, we invite you to contribute to the maintenance and growth of the Survivor Success Tips & eInsights. To make a tax-deductible donation, please visit


©Copyright 2008 Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.

Dr. Jeanne King is a licensed psychologist and domestic abuse consultant. Feel free to contact us if you need help with physical and/or emotional pain, stress-related illnesses, or relationship abuse issues at home or in court. Contact Us to reach Dr. King.