Intimate Partner Violence

●  11.1.     Theoretical background

Intimate partner violence includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and controlling behaviours by an intimate partner who can be the current partner, the ex-partner or the person that the individual experiencing the abuse is or has been in an intimate relationship with. Manifestations of intimate partner violence comprise of various patterns of abusive and threatening behaviours including among others physical, sexual and psychological violence,  threats of violence, the use of children as a means of control, attacks against property or pets, intimidation, belittlement, humiliation, harassment,  verbal abuse, stalking and cyber-stalking, excessive jealousy, control, coercion, ‘revenge porn’/non-consensual pornography (i.e. sharing of intimate sexual pictures with others), economic abuse, emotional abuse, isolation and deprivation of freedoms.

Healthy vs. Toxic relationships

A healthy relationship is a relationship that makes us feel good, happy, positive, safe, free, cherished, valued, respected and accepted for who we are. A healthy and positive relationship involves mutual caring; compassion; equality; respect; trust; open communication; an equal give and take; a genuine interest in our partner’s welfare; an ability to share control and decision-making and everything else that involves a shared desire for each other’s happiness. A healthy relationship is a safe relationship, a relationship where we can feel good about ourselves but also be ourselves without fear; a place where we feel  happy, comfortable and secure.

A toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviours that are damaging emotionally, psychologically and sometimes also physically. While a healthy relationship boosts our self-esteem, a toxic relationship damages our sense of self and is emotionally draining. A toxic relationship is also not a nurturing, happy, pleasurable or safe place. It is laced with insecurity, self-centeredness, manipulation, possessiveness, dominance and control. 

Some examples of toxic behaviours include:

  • Selfish or demanding behaviours, engaging in all-take, no give.
  • Extreme jealousy and possessiveness: this can be expressed through constantly checking up on the partner, restricting certain behaviours (how a partner can dress and where they could go, who they can hang out with), feelings of ‘ownership of the partner’ (‘you’re mine and I’m not sharing you with others’
  • One partner has power over the other, there is constant control, no shared decision making and shortage of autonomy
  • Using emotional coercion, manipulation or inducing guilt to get what one wants. This can often be done in very clever and unscrupulous ways which are often hard to recognize.
  • Lack of trust, continuous lying and dishonesty, persistent unreliability
  • A hostile environment: there’s constant anger, tension and an overload of negativity
  • Constant judgement and criticism
  • Frequent undermining, humiliation, shaming, belittlement
  • Lack of communication and even attempts to shut the partner out

Toxic behaviours are often hard to recognize because they have been normalized. When you’re experiencing feelings of unworthiness (feeling that you don’t deserve any better), unhappiness, tension, intense frustration, exhaustion, discomfort and entrapment, your relationship is becoming toxic. Toxic behaviours also escalate to seriously abusive relationships, which can destroy a person’s self-esteem and have a very negative impact on their well-being.

Your rights in a relationship

I have the right

  • to refuse to go out with someone without feeling guilty about it
  • to ask someone for a date and take rejection gracefully
  • to have pleasurable, happy, positive, healthy and fulfilling relationships
  • to privacy (personal time and space, mobile, internet, social networks).
  • to be respected and have my needs heard and met
  • to express my gender identity as I define it for myself, without being judged 
  • to express my sexual identity as I define it for myself, openly and freely
  • to be myself and be fully accepted of who I am
  • to pursue my goals and my dreams without my partner restricting me or making me feel guilty about it
  • to feel I matter and that I am important
  • to say “no” to physical closeness or intimacy
  • to choose for myself if I would like to have sex or not
  • to not have sex at all with a partner I am romantically drawn to
  • to refuse to have sex for whatever reason and to change my mind if I had said yes before
  • to have pleasurable sex
  • to ask for what I like during sex
  • not to engage in any sexual acts I find uncomfortable or not for me to say, “I want to get to know you better before I become more involved.”
  • to have an equal relationship. 
  • to express or not express my feelings
  • to have friends and space aside from my partner. 
  • to tell my partner when I need affection. 
  • express my opinions and have them respected. 
  • to have  space and freedom in my relationship
  • to have my needs be just as important as my partner’s needs. 
  • to grow as an individual, in my own way, at my own pace. 
  • to not take responsibility for my partner’s behaviour. 
  • to break up and fall out of love with someone and not be threatened.
  • to say, “I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore.” 
  • not to be abused physically, sexually, or emotionally. 
  • I always have the right to be safe

Note: The above can be reprinted as a handout and given out as recourse material in each workshop. In this way, it could act as a powerful nudge of validation to young persons who may be struggling in private.

What can you do if you are in a toxic relationship?

There are different degrees of toxic relationships. All of us may experience some of the above behaviours occasionally in our relationship, in a mild form. The key words here are occasionally and mild. In a toxic relationship these behaviours are more severe than mild and they are often the norm, not the exception. Moreover, what distinguishes the level of toxicity is how you personally feel in the relationship: do you feel you have no space to breathe, exhausted, drained, confused, tense, worried, unhappy, trapped, unsafe, uncomfortable? The more negative the feelings you’re experiencing, the higher the level of toxicity. The way you react also has to do with the level of toxicity, especially if the boundary has been crossed and your relationship has become abusive.  While it is often difficult to deal with toxic relationships, don’t  be afraid to take action. It is the only way to change things for the better.

Start by reaching out to someone who can help you explore your feelings and get a better idea of what is going on in your relationship. Talking to friends or people you trust is important so you don’t feel alone and that you have emotional support. Reaching out to professionals (psychologists, youth centres, community centres, online support services, helplines/chats etc.) is also helpful because they can support you in understanding and coping with your feelings and also in exploring your options. This help better prepare you for having a conversation with your partner.

Start by openly and truthfully telling your partner how you feel about the way they are behaving towards you. Some partners are not fully aware of the impact of their actions and openly discussing how you feel can be an effective way for them to re-evaluate and change their toxic behaviours. However, if your partner remains unresponsive to how you feel, seek outside help from friends or other people who can support you explore your options.

Set boundaries. Be assertive, firm and clear about where you draw the line and what behaviours are unacceptable to you. Be assertive about how you want to be treated and demand equality and respect.

Change the way you are responding to your partner’s toxic behaviour. Set boundaries with your behaviour. Stop patterns that are perpetuating the toxicity. For instance, if you instantly do whatever is demanded of you, it gives a message to your partner that you are okay with it.

End the toxic relationship. Ending the relationship is the final way to handle the situation but it is important to know your limits. If you feel this relationship is pushing you out of your comfort zone, violating your boundaries and your rights, it is time to end it. Reach out to people who can help, so that you can feel supported and empowered to take this step.

Additional suggestion on how you can address and protect yourself from intimate partner violence and gender-based violence in general are included in Chapter 14 ‘Breaking the cycle of SGBV’.

●  11.2.     Non-formal education activities  on Intimate Partner Violence

●  11.3.     Links to additional resources and information

Fundamental Rights Agency: Violence against women: an EU-wide survey. Results at a glance. Downloadable at:

GEAR against IPV. Booklet III: Teacher’s Manual. (2016.). Athens: European Anti-Violence Network. Downloadable at