What is intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner violence (IPV), sometimes called domestic violence, refers to a pattern of behaviors by one partner with the goal of exerting power or control over the other partner. IPV includes dating violence. The purpose of those behaviors is to make the other partner feel fearful.

Violence is never a solution to problems, frustrations or relationship issues.

What are the different types of IPV?

There are many types of IPV, including:

  • Physical
  • Verbal
  • Emotional
  • Sexual
  • Stalking

These behaviors can happen in person or digitally through social networking, websites or text messaging. Learn more about IPV through texting and through social networking.

What is the cycle of IPV?

IPV has a cycle with three phases:

    1. Tension phase. This is when stress or emotions build up over a certain period of time. The abuser might pick fights, nitpick or show aggression.
    2. Acute or crisis phase. This is when episodes of IPV happen. The abuser will hurt and blame the victim. The victim will try to take actions to survive the abuse.
    3. Honeymoon phase. This is when the abuser becomes calmer and might try to apologize, ask for forgiveness or promise the abuse will not happen again.

How common is IPV?

IPV can affect people of all races and from all backgrounds. There are some characteristics that are associated with a higher risk:

      • Younger age. Partner violence often begins in adolescence and young adulthood.
      • Women, especially throughout their childbearing years (years when they can have children), are particularly at risk. This also raises the risk of affecting their children also.

What are the consequences of IPV?

There are many consequences of IPV. IPV affects everyone differently. The most common effects include:

      • Physical injury
      • Unintended or unwanted pregnancy
      • Sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs or STDs)
      • Mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress
      • Long-term effects of chronic/repeated trauma has been shown to impact the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) system, immune system (system that fights off germs and illness) and other health problems
      • Invisible wounds (the effects you cannot physically see, but still affect the person, such as low self-esteem or unhealthy beliefs about relationships or themselves). These problems can also place a person at a higher risk for revictimization (becoming a victim of IPV again), even in a new relationship

What are the risk factors for IPV?

There are many factors that can raise your teen’s risk of becoming involved with IPV. These risk factors can include:

      • Unhealthy beliefs about relationships
      • Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
      • Aggressive behavior
      • Drugs or alcohol use/ abuse
      • Early sexual activity or having multiple partners
      • Witnessing violence at home
      • Having many fights or conflicts in a relationship (outside of usual disagreements)

What are the signs that my teen might be experiencing IPV?

It is important to know the signs of IPV so you can support your teen and get them the help they need. The signs of IPV can include:

      • An on-again, off-again relationship pattern
      • Unexplained physical injuries
      • Stress and mental health problems, such as anxiety
      • Spending excessive time texting or online
      • Your child’s friends are in abusive relationships
      • Low self-esteem
      • Unhealthy beliefs about relationships
      • Substance use problems (drinking or using other drugs)
      • Aggressive behaviors
      • Isolation (separation) from friends and family, especially when it is an unexpected or acute change
      • Poor grades or performance in school, especially when it is an unexpected or sudden change
      • Early sexual activity or having multiple sexual partners

How can I support my teen if they are experiencing IPV?

Here is how you can help your teen if they are experiencing IPV:

      • Learn the signs of IPV. See the signs of IPV above. Educate yourself about teen IPV through the online resources listed at the end of this page.
      • Listen to your teen and believe what they are saying. It is hard for most teens to talk about their dating experiences that involve partner violence. This is because they might think no one will believe them. They might also feel scared, confused or ashamed.
      • Do not blame or judge your child. It is important for your child to feel supported. It is also important to keep an open line of communication between you and your child.
      • Remind your teen that they deserve to be in a healthy relationship. Healthy relationships do not hurt. Healthy relationships feel supportive and respect individual boundaries. Learn more about healthy relationships from MGHfC or from Love Is Respect®
      • If your teen is experiencing IPV, decide on the next steps. Leaving an unhealthy relationship can be difficult. It is also often the most dangerous time for adult women experiencing IPV. Your teen may also feel fearful. Talk with your teen’s guidance counselor, principal or teachers at school. If needed, talk with the police.
      • Help your teen get support from their doctor or therapist. If you are not sure how to find a therapist, talk to your child’s pediatrician.
      • Get support for yourself. As a parent, learning that your child is experiencing IPV can be emotionally challenging. Getting support for yourself from someone you trust can help you better support your child.

What are other ways I can help my teen?

Here are other ways you can help your teen:

      • Set an example for healthy relationships at home. Children typically learn how to develop relationships and emotional skills through their experiences with their parents and primary caregivers. When there is a disagreement or stress, model how to handle stress and challenging emotions, such as anger or sadness. Learn more about healthy ways to solve problems and build trust from Love Is Respect®.
      • Keep open lines of communication. Tell your teen that they can come to you about anything and that you will be there to listen to and support them.
      • Address mental health concerns. If your teen has mental health problems, help them get the support and treatment they need. Reach out to your teen’s doctor or visit Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at MGHfC for resources, referrals and next steps.
      • Know your teen’s friends. Peer and friend relationships are a very strong influence on children. Healthy friendships with people who are supportive, caring and understanding can affect how your teen thinks about relationships and dating. Knowing your teen’s close or good friends can help you understand your child better. Learn more about forming healthy relationships from MGHfC or from Love is Respect® Learn more about healthy teen dating relationships (PDF) from Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at MGHfC.

Why won't my teen leave the abusive relationship?

There are many reasons why your teen might choose not to leave an abusive relationship right away or at all. Some reasons include:

      • Having a range of conflicting feelings and thoughts. For instance, feeling fearful, confused, embarrassed or ashamed while also wanting the relationship or caring for the person.
      • If your teen identifies as gay, lesbian, transgender or gender non-binary and are not open about it, they might feel scared about the abusive partner sharing their identity.
      • Beliefs that abuse is normal or that the abuse is somehow their fault.
      • Hope that the abusive partner will change
      • Pressure from peers, cultural or religious reasons.
      • If your teen is pregnant or has children with the abusive partner, they might feel pressured to raise the children together.
      • Distrust of adults, police and other authorities
      • Reliance on the abusive partner. Your teen might depend on the abusive partner for money, security or feel like they have nowhere to go if they leave.

What are the warning signs that my teen might be abusing or hurting their partner?

If your teen shows any of the warning signs below, they might be abusing or hurting their partner. The signs can include:

      • Feeling very jealous or insecure
      • Always needs to be the one “in charge” in relationships
      • Trouble maintaining relationships or frequent break ups
      • Minimizing or rationalizing violence or coercive behaviors (hurtful behaviors to force someone into doing something they do not want to do)
      • Not respecting others’ privacy or choices
      • Trouble compromising and adjusting to their partner's needs
      • Blaming others and trouble accepting responsibility for their behaviors

Where can I learn more about IPV?

You can learn more about IPV from the following resources:

      • Your primary care provider or your child's pediatrician
      • Break the Cycle®
      • Intimate Partner Violence - CDC
      • Do Something®
      • Futures Without Violence®
      • Love is Respect®
      • National Domestic Violence Hotline®
Rev. 5/2018. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands or organizations listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.</h6.