5 Signs of Intimate Partner Abuse and Where Survivors Can Get Help


Safe and Stable Families Director Jamie Perez and Program Coordinator Lilli Crowe share signs of intimate partner abuse – and how survivors can get help.

“If I can’t have you, no one will.”

“If you leave me, you’ll never see your kids again.”

“If you call the police, I’ll kill you.”

From a bird’s-eye view of someone’s romantic relationship, you may recognize these statements as being abusive. But frequently they have a different context for the person actually in the relationship, the survivor of abuse:

He loves me so much, he just gets upset if he thinks about us not being together anymore.

She had a rough day at work and I know she hates it when I talk to her right when she gets home. She just loses her temper sometimes.

It’s my fault.

Abusers actively, affirmatively, and intentionally put measures in place to control their partners. Abusers cause their partners to question their reality and their reaction to abusive situations. Abusers isolate their partners so they don’t have a check on that reality through family and friends. What’s more, many abusers engage in abusive behaviors that are not so egregious as the statements above and frequently only elevate their behaviors if their usual methods of control have stopped working.

Often, my clients, who often carried visible scars, didn’t see these non-physical behaviors as abusive, yet carried invisible emotional scars as a result.

The survivor partners—who have loved the abuser, seen them at their best, benefit from their financial support, perhaps have children with them, and see the abuser as a good parent to the children—don’t always recognize these statements as abuse. Nor do they find themselves undeserving of that abuse. And what constitutes abuse doesn’t always constitute grounds for a legal protective order, further complicating a survivor’s and society’s view of what abuse is.

As a family law attorney and someone who had represented survivors of intimate partner abuse in protective order hearings, I thought I had a strong understanding of intimate partner abuse prior to joining AVLF. But it wasn’t until I spoke to survivors on a daily basis that I started to understand the full breadth of non-physically abusive tactics employed by abusers to control their partners. I realized that there are certain behaviors that can go unnoticed to the untrained eye but which should be bright red indicators of an abusive relationship. I started seeing these patterns of behaviors in the majority of my clients’ relationships. Often, my clients, who often carried visible scars, didn’t see these non-physical behaviors as abusive, yet carried invisible emotional scars as a result.

Following are 5 signs of non-physical abuse which should raise concerns about the possibility that someone is in an abusive relationship:

1. Financial control

One partner does not allow the other partner access to finances and financial information such that the partner without access must financially fully rely on the partner with It is never a good sign when one partner, even seemingly without bad intentions, nevertheless has the unfettered ability to cut the other partner off financially.

2. Demeaning and derogatory language

Love and respect should be tenets of all romantic relationships. In no scenario should one partner use language that demeans or diminishes the other partner. “You’re turn into such a slut when you drink.” “You’re a bitch/stupid/ugly.” “You’re worthless.” These statements are never okay to say to someone you love.

3. Behaving differently publicly and privately

Abusers are frequently well-liked and well-regarded in their communities, intentionally putting forth an image of an upstanding, kind, loving person. No one would guess they are abusers because they are manipulative. Yet behind closed doors, they become someone else entirely – perhaps only toward their significant other, the target of their abuse.

4. Threatening to harm self, others, property

Abusers frequently use real, specific threats to keep their partners “in line.” Threatening to break windows, phones, and other electronics, harm a partner or children, and threatening to harm themselves are all red flags that it is likely only a matter of time before the abuser follows through on the threat. Threats to commit suicide are just as dangerous as threats to harm others and is a serious indicator of a lethal situation.

5. Jealousy and other controlling behavior

Abusers frequently call and text nonstop until their partner answers, video chat with their partner to see who else is there, behave jealously of their partner’s family and friends (i.e. non-romantic individuals in relation to their partner), accuse their partner of cheating on them, check their partner’s phone for who they are in communication with, track their partner’s mileage and/or location, time how long it takes for their partner to come home from work and question their partner if it takes longer than expected, frequently call their partner at work and show up at their partner’s work… the list goes on. These are abusive behaviors that may start out seeming like “attentiveness” but are designed to isolate, generate fear, undermine independence, and control the actions of another.

If you or someone you know in Atlanta recognizes any of these behaviors and would like to discuss them further or seek help, you may visit or call the Safe Families Office in the Fulton County Courthouse, where survivors of intimate partner abuse have access to legal advocates, attorneys, social workers, crisis intervention counselors, shelter, safety planning, and other resources.

Watch our video to learn more about the Safe and Stable Families Project.

Jamie Perez

Director, Safe and Stable Families Project

Jamie is the director of the Safe and Stable Families Project, which includes the Domestic Violence, Family Law, and Guardian ad Litem programs.

Jamie currently serves as a member of the Fulton County Family Violence Task Force. Prior to joining AVLF, Jamie practiced family law at Holland Roddenbery LLC. She is the former co-chair of the State Bar of Georgia’s Young Lawyer Division’s Family Law Committee. She obtained her JD from the University of Georgia School of Law, where she served on the Georgia Law Review. She received her BS in journalism from Ohio University. She went on to work in sports marketing for four years before attending law school.

Jamie is an active member of the Atlanta Bar Association and State Bar of Georgia and has been recognized for her contributions to the legal profession and survivors of domestic violence. Jamie is the recipient of the 2017 Family First Award from the Atlanta Bar Association Family Law Section, the 2017 Kurt Kegel Memorial Scholarship from the State Bar of Georgia Family Law Section, and the 2015 Kerry Harike Joedecke Atlanta Lawyer of the Year award from the Atlanta Council of Younger Lawyers.

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Lilli Crowe

Program Coordinator, Safe and Stable Families Project

Lilli is the Program Coordinator for the Safe and Stable Families Project, which allows her to work within both the Domestic Violence and Guardian ad Litem programs. 

You can often find her at the Safe Families Office inside the Fulton County Courthouse. When not assisting survivors of domestic violence to obtain temporary protective orders, she coordinates volunteer attorneys for each of the programs she works in. Lilli graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Georgia, where she minored in Sociology. When she’s not navigating the wild west of the courthouse, she likes to explore the world and read. 

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