Spotting the signs of an abusive relationship


Everyone has arguments, and everyone disagrees with their partners, family members and others close to them from time to time.

But if this becomes the norm in your relationship and you feel afraid of your partner, then this is a sign of an abusive relationship. You can feel as if you have no power over your life and that you are being controlled by your partner.

Abuse can happen to anyone at any age and in any type of relationship. It can happen to adults and it can happen to teenagers. And you don't have to be married or living with your partner for them to act abusively towards you.

Types of abuse

An abusive relationship is where one person uses abuse to control and have power over their partner in an intimate relationship. It can be:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Online abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Economic (financial) abuse
  • Digital abuse (carried out online or using technology)

Coercive control is another type of abusive behaviour. This is when a boyfriend or girlfriend, partner, husband or wife, or ex uses an ongoing pattern of controlling, coercive and threatening behaviours to trap the person in a relationship. Coercive control can make it impossible or even dangerous to leave an abusive relationship and can include all or some forms of abuse.

This can result in a person changing their routines and losing contact with family and friends. Coercive control can damage a person’s physical and emotional well-being.

Young people in abusive relationships

Many young people, in particular young women, are subjected to abuse in their intimate relationships. This is called ‘intimate relationship abuse’. This is when your boyfriend, girlfriend or partner uses a pattern of abusive behaviours to gain and maintain all the power in the relationship.

Abuse can happen in short-term relationships or even your first relationship. You don’t need to be living with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner for them to be abusive towards you.

If you are worried about your relationship, you can take a relationship quiz on the website Too Into You to see if there are warning signs that your partner’s behaviour is controlling.

Examples of controlling or abusive behaviour can include:

  • Controlling what you wear and who you see
  • Sharing or threatening to share intimate images or videos of you without your consent
  • Isolating you from family and friends to make you feel guilty if you don’t spend all your free time with them
  • Bombarding you with texts and DMs and getting angry if you ignore them
  • Demanding to look through your phone or social media
  • Checking your text messages, email and social media accounts to keep tabs on you
  • A bad temper, you feel afraid to disagree with them
  • Physically attacking you or threatening to hurt you
  • Threatening to hurt you, themselves or others if you end the relationship
  • Forcing you to do sexual things against your will

Any one of these signs is serious. Your partner does not need to do several or all of these things for your relationship to be abusive. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Talking with someone can help you understand what is happening within your relationship and support you to stay safe. This might be family or a close friend.

Or you might feel more comfortable discussing your situation with someone you don’t know. There is free confidential support and information available 24-hours a day from national and local organisations (see Support organisations and services below).

Young people who are worried about their own relationship or a friend’s relationship can use the free and confidential Instant Messaging Support Service at Too Into You.

If you feel in immediate danger, call 112 or 999. Members of the Gardaí are specially trained to deal with these situations and can help you get support.

What are my options?

Recognising that you are being abused is an important step. You may feel you need time to think about your situation. Or perhaps you have already made up your mind to end the relationship or to leave. Whatever you decide, your safety (and that of your children if there are children) is always the priority.

Domestic violence orders

If you are being subjected to abuse by a current or former partner, you can get legal protection through the courts. The main kinds of protection available are safety, protection and barring orders.

You may also need to find out about:

Listed below are organisations offering a range of support services that will be able to support you (see Support organisations and services below).

Are you concerned about someone you know?

You can take some basic steps to help and support a friend, family member, colleague, neighbour or anyone who confides in you that they are experiencing domestic abuse.

You can offer emotional support and you can offer practical support.

Emotional support

  • Listen, try to understand and be careful not to blame them. Nothing they do or say can justify the abuser's behaviour.
  • Tell them they are not alone and that there are supports available if they need them.
  • Support them as a friend. Encourage them to express their feelings, whatever they are.
  • Don't tell them to leave the relationship if they are not ready to do this. This is their decision.

Practical support

  • Tell them about the support services available (see Support organisations and services below).
  • Give them mobile phone credit if they need it so they can make calls in case of emergency.
  • Ask if they have suffered physical harm. If so, offer to go with them to a hospital or to see their GP. Suggest that it might be useful in future to have records of any injuries as abuse frequently escalates over time.
  • Help them to report the assault to the police if they want to.
  • Go with them to visit a solicitor if they are ready to take this step.
  • Agree a code word with them which they can use if they are in danger and need help.
  • Offer the use of your address and/or telephone number to leave information and messages, and tell them you can look after an emergency bag for them, if they want that.
  • Give them a small amount of money to put away in case they need to get a taxi or bus in an emergency to leave the house and go to family or a refuge.

Remember to look after yourself while you are supporting someone through such a difficult and emotional time. Ensure that you do not put yourself into a dangerous situation; for example, do not offer to talk to the abuser about their behaviour or let yourself be seen by the abuser as a threat to their relationship.

Support organisations and services

If you feel in immediate danger, call 112 or 999. Members of the Gardaí are specially trained to deal with these situations and can help you get support.

Women's Aid

Women’s Aid provide free and confidential support to women experiencing domestic violence, family and friends, and professionals supporting victims of abuse.

  • National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Telephone Interpretation Service on 1800 341 900 available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Instant messaging service available at
    • Saturday, 12pm – 3pm and 7pm – 10pm
    • Monday to Friday, 10am – 1pm and 7pm – 10pm
    • Saturday, 12pm – 3pm and 7pm – 10pm
    • Sunday, 11am – 1pm and 7pm – 10pm
  • Text service for Deaf and Hard of Hearing women available 8am – 8pm, 7 days a week on 087 959 7980
  • Domestic Abuse Information and Support Service for women at Dolphin House Family Law Court. Drop-in service for women who are experiencing abuse in a relationship available Monday to Friday, 9.30am – 12.30pm and 2pm – 4.30pm
  • Maternity Outreach Service for women who are experiencing domestic abuse and who are currently or recently received maternity care in the Rotunda Hospital, the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street and the Coombe Hospital.
  • Free and confidential instant messaging support service and information for young people on intimate relationship abuse at Too Into You

Rape Crisis Centre

Rape Crisis Help offers a free, confidential listening and support service for women and men who have been raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed or sexually abused at any time in their lives.

  • National Helpline 1800 778 888 available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • DRCC Helpline Interpreting Service available Monday – Friday, 8am – 6.30pm
  • A network of local Rape Crisis Centres
  • Text service for people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing on 086 823 8443, Monday to Friday, 8am – 6.30pm
  • Online webchat via the DRCC website available Monday to Friday, 10am – 5pm

Finding Your Way after Sexual Violence is an online guide to the options and supports available after rape, sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence. The guide has information on accessing a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit, reporting to the Gardaí, and where to go for help.

Safe Ireland

Safe Ireland has up-to-date information on the location of local domestic violence support services and refuges in Ireland and their contact details.

Men's Development Network

The Men’s Development Network operates the National Male Advice Line on 1800 816 588 for men experiencing or who have experienced domestic violence.

  • Monday and Wednesday, 10am – 6pm
  • Tuesday and Thursday, 12pm – 8pm
  • Friday to Sunday and public holidays, 2pm – 6pm

Men's Aid

Men’s Aid Ireland (formerly known as Amen) provides a confidential helpline, a support service and information for men and their families experiencing domestic violence.

  • National Helpline (01) 554 3811, Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm
  • Email for confidential support at

CARI (Children At Risk in Ireland)

CARI has a helpline offering specialised support to anyone affected by child sexual abuse. CARI supports children, parents, adult survivors, professionals, and the general public.

  • CARI Care Line 0818 924 567, Monday to Friday, 9.00am – 5.00pm
  • You can request a callback by completing a short form

The Government launched a public awareness campaign on domestic abuse during COVID-19 with a website It also has information for anyone in fear of domestic abuse in their home. It includes information about:

Page edited: 15 November 2023