The government recently approved a landmark bill that creates a new statutory definition of domestic abuse.

Would you recognise domestic abuse if you saw it?

If you haven’t done so already, take our online domestic abuse quiz.

Below we’ll explore the scenarios we discussed in the quiz. As you’ll see, spotting the signs of domestic abuse might be more challenging than you think.

One partner prevents the other from seeing their friends or family.

This is domestic abuse.

Emotional abuse plays a big role in domestic abuse situations, and abusers often isolate their victims from their friends and family. This makes it harder for the victim’s family to spot the signs of abuse and intervene. And of course, it makes it almost impossible for the victim to find the help and support they need.

One partner reads the other partner’s messages on their phone.

This could be domestic abuse.

If one partner reads another partner’s messages on their phone behind their back, it shows a lack of trust and a lack of privacy. This could be part of a wider pattern of coercive control.

One partner installs a “find my phone” app on the other partner’s phone.

This could be domestic abuse.

A “find my phone” app helps you do just that: Find your phone if you lose it. These apps usually use GPS to show your phone’s location on a map.

If one partner installs such an app on the other partner’s phone, they might just be helping out. Perhaps they’re simply giving their partner a means of finding their phone should they ever lose it.

On the other hand, the partner might be using the app themselves, to keep track on the other partner’s movements. Again, this could be part of a wider pattern of coercive control, which could indicate a domestic abuse situation.

One partner changes their behaviour, as they’re afraid of what the other partner might do or say. e.g. They stop seeing certain people, or doing certain things.

This could be domestic abuse.

What might make a person in an intimate relationship start to change their behaviour?

Perhaps they’ve learned over time that doing certain things, going to certain places, or seeing (or even mentioning) certain people upsets their partner.

Maybe this behaviour makes them angry.

Or maybe it makes them violent.

In such cases, if a person’s so worried about how their partner behaves that they make a point of changing their behaviour, it could point to a wider pattern of coercive control.

People shouldn’t be afraid of their own partners. Nor should they have to consciously alter their behaviour to stop their partner from lashing out.

One partner controls all the household finances.

This might not be domestic abuse.

Financial abuse is often a factor in abusive relationships. Abusers might control their partner’s use of money, barely giving them enough to survive. This, of course, limits their independence, making them feel further isolated.

However, if one partner controls all the household finances, it doesn’t necessarily indicate an abusive situation. It might just mean that they’re the main earner in the household, and therefore it makes better sense for them to manage bills and budgets. Or, maybe one partner already owned a house, and therefore already managed all the household finances. When the other partner moved in, perhaps it made little sense to change the existing arrangement.

If one partner’s just handling the finances for practical reasons, or for the sake of convenience, then it’s probably not an abusive situation. The important thing is that both partners consent to this situation.

But if one partner then puts strict controls on how and when the other partner can access money, then it just might indicate a wider pattern of coercive control.

One partner drinks more alcoholic drinks per week than the other.

This might not be domestic abuse.

It’s a myth that all domestic abuse situations involve drugs or alcohol. It’s also a myth that drugs and alcohol tends to make people more violent.

Alcohol and drugs can make existing abusive situations worse. They can also act as a catalyst for abuse.

But the vast majority of people who drink alcohol and take drugs do not abuse their partners.

If one partner drinks more alcoholic drinks per week than the other, then it might mean just that: That they drink more alcoholic drinks per week than their partner. This does not necessarily point to an abusive situation. Nor does it necessarily make abuse more likely.

One partner lashes out at the other when angry – but only once.

This might not be domestic abuse.

If one partner gets angry and lashes out at the other, it’s physical abuse. It’s illegal and unacceptable. But it might not be domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is not a “crime of passion”. It’s not about losing control. It’s about taking control.

Abusers tend to choose carefully how and when they abuse their partners. They might do it when there are no witnesses around, and they might harm their partner in such a way that it won’t leave any tell-tale marks. The aim is total control over their victim.

And on top of all this, not all domestic abuse situations involve physical violence anyway. The government’s statutory definition describes an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and otherwise abusive behaviour.

So an isolated incident of violence might be inexcusable. But that doesn’t necessarily make it domestic abuse.

A couple splits up, but one partner continues to send insulting messages to the other after the separation.

This could be domestic abuse.

The government’s new Domestic Abuse Act extends the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to cover post-separation abuse.

Even if the two partners are no longer in a relationship – or even if they no longer live in the same country – if one partner continues to harass and emotionally abuse the other after the separation, then it may still count as domestic abuse.

Further Domestic Abuse Resources

If you need help and support regarding a domestic abuse situation, access the NHS helpline resources here.