Recognize the signs: Are you in an abusive relationship? 

Understand the different types of abuse and where to go for help

By: Athena Bucci

Publish on: January 8th, 2024

Every couple goes through their up and down moments, and even the happiest of partners can have big arguments. However, there are some people who experience toxic behaviour by their partner, and in many cases, may not even be aware that these patterns are signs of abuse. Abuse, regardless of what form it comes in, is against the law and dangerous, as it not only affects your physical well-being, but also emotionally and financially.  

In 2019, three out of ten victims reported violence by their intimate partner in Canada. It is important to also discuss that abuse is not based solely on gender. While women are statistically more likely to experience abuse from their partners, there are men who also go through the experience as well. Men often don’t come forward, because their female partners are more likely to make their abuse harder to spot, using verbal and emotional tactics. 

Regardless of gender or statistics, romantic relationships are about finding the person that makes you the happiest, but it is also important to know when the relationship is taking a negative toll on your own life. No one should have to feel unsafe with the people they care about, or feel like they are walking on eggshells around their partner.  

Types of abuse  

Physical and sexual 

Physical abuse is the most visible form of abuse, and is likely the most common form of domestic violence. Any form of violent physical contact, such as punching, slapping, and kicking, is considered abusive behaviour. Even being restrained against their will, invasion of personal space, being neglected, or abandoned are all other forms of physical abuse.  

It’s also no surprise that with relationships come physical intimacy, such as sexual intercourse. Sexual abuse is when any sexual activity occurs without consent. This includes any form of forced sexual actions, such as sexual assault and rape. It can even go as far as the abusive person trying to coerce their partner into having sex, despite being told no the first time. Sexual abuse can even be linked to emotional and mental abuse, where the one being abused feels as though they are not loved, but being used to please their partner. 

Any form of physical or sexual abuse can lead to severe situations, such as injuries, hospitalization, and in the worst cases, death.  

Emotional and mental 

Emotional and mental abuse tend to overlap with one another, but they still have their differences. The main thing that emotional and mental abuse have in common is that they are not always physical or visible actions; the abusers will use words and non-violent behaviours towards their partner. Emotional abuse refers to any harmful behaviour that negatively impacts your emotional state. Such behaviour can include shaming and humiliation, criticism, neglect, and blaming. 

Mental abuse, also known as psychological abuse, refers more to how the impact of a partner’s harmful behaviour affects someone’s thinking or psychological state. Like emotional abuse, the signs are not easy to notice at first; things like cruel jokes, lack of communication, and belittling can be signs of mental abuse. One big sign to look out for is gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of psychological control, where the abuser will use tactics like manipulation and guilt tripping to intentionally make someone second guess themselves.  


Verbal abuse is another form of non-violent abuse. Like emotional and mental abuse, this one uses the power of words to hurt someone. Tactics like name calling, blaming, yelling, making threats, and starting fights over the smallest things are signs of verbally abusive behaviours. Most verbally abusive people will also try to use tactics to affect their partners psychologically, such as bringing up repetitive arguments, silent treatments, ignoring their partner’s emotions and opinions, victimizing themselves, and making them feel the need to apologize all the time. 


Financial abuse may not affect a person’s health, but it can massively affect their financial and emotional well-being. It is described as a tactic used by abusers to increase control over their victim to put them in a vulnerable position where they don’t have the means to protect themselves and/or leave their abuser.  

This type of abuse can occur in a few different forms. They can “take care” of the finances, which means they actually take control of it and give their partner a limited amount to use. The abuser can try and sabotage their partner’s employment, such as getting them fired or convincing them to not work at all. They can also take advantage of one’s own economic situation by taking out a line of credit in their partner’s name to intentionally destroy their credit, or coerce them into debt.  

Where to find help 

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing abuse in their relationship, there are several ways to receive help.  

If you find yourself in immediate danger, whether emotionally or physically, and you are possibly fearing your safety or life, dial 9-1-1. Remember, abuse and domestic violence are against the law as according to the Criminal Code of Canada, so, the authorities are there to help you. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also provide service and advice in case you are in need of assistance. 

If you are not in immediate danger or don’t feel comfortable going to the police, don’t be afraid to reach out to a person you trust, like a friend or family member to ask for help. It is important to also create a safety plan, and make sure that if you need to leave your abusive relationship, you have all your essentials, such as important documents (passport, Social Insurance Number (SIN), bank cards, etc.), personal belongings, and money.  

For those who are being financially abused, it’s important to make yourself financially educated. Always make sure you have a savings account that your partner does not know about or has access to. If your partner has control of your accounts or has taken out a line of credit in your name, get the accounts frozen and speak with a lawyer and financial advisor at the bank. Stealing money and fraud are also illegal.  

Another option is to reach out to centres and shelters that specialize with victims of domestic violence and abuse for both men and women. Toronto alone has several centres you can go to, but there are also some across Ontario. If you are not sure where to go or how to get help in your situation, there are different helplines you can call in the province, or even dial the Ontario 2-1-1 number.  

Once you are safe, consider speaking to a professional therapist, and stay with a family member or friend until you are able to get back on your feet. Remember: you don’t have to go through this alone. 

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