Power and Control

Every relationship is different, and all relationships have their ups and downs. One of the most troubling things about abuse is that many people still think that it can only be physical. That is not true. Physical abuse is only part of a much bigger cycle of power and control. 

When you are in a relationship, when you love someone, it can be very difficult to realize or to admit that there is abuse. Learning about the behavioral patterns of abusers can help you to make informed decisions about your own situation. 

The Power and Control Wheel paints a clear picture of the tactics that abusers use to get and maintain power and control in a relationship.

Physical and Sexual Violence

This can be seen as the most obvious and forceful tactic that abusers use. It is all about domination, and it is all about them. The abuser may hit, punch, kick or inflict other kinds of physical harm on the other person. The abusive partner may also force the other partner to have sex or to perform sexual acts in order to assert his/her power and to instill fear in the other partner. 


You can look at this as an extension or consequence of the physical violence, to a certain extent. Having instilled fear in the other partner, the abusive person does not always have to use force. With intimidation, just the thought of what the abuser “could” do is enough to get the other partner to be submissive. It could be a look, the slamming of a door, or anything that could bring to mind what he/she might be capable of doing to harm the other person. Again, it is all about power and control.

Using Emotional Abuse

This is where the abuser really gets into the other partner’s head by trying to control their thinking. The abuser constantly puts the other partner down, with insults and name-calling. The other partner is made to feel as if nothing he/she does is good enough and, eventually, he/she can even come to believe that he/she is inferior to the abuser and cannot make it on his/her own. In many ways, this is even more powerful than physical abuse because it can change someone’s way of thinking and, by extension, who they are.

Using Isolation

The abuser wants ultimate power, and he/she believes that he/she is right and entitled to it. There is no tolerance for anyone who has a different opinion or who might cause the other partner to question or challenge this belief, so the abuser will try to isolate the other partner from the people in their life. The abuser may pick fights, constantly monitor contacts and social media, or use other tactics to stop the other partner from spending time with friends or family. The goal is to be the only person of influence in the other partner’s life. 

Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming

This is where the abuser drives home the point that all of the bad things that he/she says or does to the other partner is the other partner’s fault. For example, if the abuser beats the other partner when that partner comes home from an outing with friends, he/she will insist that the partner is to blame because that partner went out instead of staying home with him/her. Here again, this type of abusive behavior can result in the other partner coming to believe that he/she truly is to blame.

Using Children

Many times, an abuser will use children to gain power over the other partner. Abusers know how much their partners love their children, and they may tell their partners that they will make sure that they never see their children again or threaten to have the children taken away if they don’t give them what they want. 

Other tactics that abusers use are economic abuse, using male privilege, and using coercion and threats. For more information on these tactics, click here

Click here for an example of a relationship assessment quiz.            

If you think that you or someone you know might be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, CAP advocates are here to listen. Call us at 503-494-3256 or 833-495-CAPS (2277).