Understanding domestic abuse

You may be wondering whether your partner or ex-partner’s behaviour is normal. Or you may be worried about someone close to you. This guide is designed to help you to understand domestic abuse.

Verified by Assoc. Prof. Andreea Gruev-Vintila on 17/11/2023

It can be extremely difficult to realise that you are experiencing domestic abuse from your partner. Please remember that this can happen to anyone. One in three women face domestic abuse during their lives, regardless of their financial or professional situation. 

A common misconception is that domestic abuse is only physical. But if your partner or ex-partner uses strategies to dominate you, control you, make you obey their decisions, or make you dependent on them, this is domestic abuse. 

Step by step, we will help you identify whether your partner’s behaviour is domestic abuse.

How you feel

A good way to know if you are experiencing domestic abuse is to check in with how you are feeling.

It is common to doubt yourself when you experience behaviours that are considered domestic abuse. But try to trust yourself: you are the only person who knows what you are experiencing and how it makes you feel.

    • Since I’ve been with them, I feel like I’ve lost all confidence in myself.
    • I feel I am walking on eggshells all the time.
    • Sometimes I’m afraid they’ll hurt my children.
    • Sometimes I’m afraid of them.
    • I feel that I have little autonomy in my life.
    • I can never completely relax in their company.
    • I’m nervous when I receive a call or message from them.
    • Sometimes I’m afraid to come home.
    • I feel anxious when they come home.
    • I feel like I’m being kept away from my family and friends since we’ve been together.
    • I feel isolated.
    • I live in an atmosphere of fear and tension.
    • I feel like I can no longer trust my vision of reality.
    • Since I have been with them, I feel stupid, ugly or useless.
    • I sometimes end up apologising or they ask me to apologise for my behaviour, even though I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong.
    • I feel that they devalue me as a parent.
    • I often makes excuses for their behaviour. They have experienced difficult things that make them act in a controlling, possessive and/or aggressive way.
    • I’m ashamed to talk to people close to me about the situation.

    If at least one of these statements is consistent with how you feel, it is likely that you are experiencing one or more forms of domestic abuse from your partner.

How they behave

Domestic abuse is not just physical. It can take different forms and deprive you of your fundamental rights and resources such as your freedom and your security. 

The best definition of domestic abuse is coercive control. It is an intentional act of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour deliberately carried out with the aim of making you dependent, subordinate and/or depriving you of your freedom of action.

The nature of these behaviours can be psychological, verbal, financial, administrative, material, physical or sexual.

  • Psychological abuse can take the following forms:

    • monitoring your movements, activities, emails, calls and/or schedule
    • distancing you from or preventing you from seeing people close to you (friends, family)
    • emotionally blackmailing you 
    • devaluing and/or humiliating you
    • intimidating and/or threatening you 
    • bullying you
    • devaluing you as a parent
    • saying or implying that your culture, religion and associated choices are wrong or inferior to their own
    • “gaslighting” you, which means questioning your memory, perception of reality and mental health by distorting information or hiding it from you.

    If repeated, they constitute psychological abuse within the relationship.

    Can you relate to these statements?

    • They tell me I don't do anything right.
    • They emotionally blackmail me by telling me that if I really loved them, I'd do what they wanted.
    • They threaten to harm my children or my pets, or take them away from me.
    • They say no one can love me apart from them.
    • They've prevented me from seeing my friends or family. 
    • They can be extremely jealous if I spend time away from them or if I’m in contact with other people.
    • They monitor my schedule. They always want to know where I am and with whom.
    • When I complain about their behaviour, they tell me it’s my fault. 
    • They ignore me when I speak, as if I wasn’t in the room.
    • They’ve forced me to do things that I didn’t really want to do.
    • They force me to take part in illegal activities.
    • They threaten me verbally, with objects or with threatening movements that make me think they’re going to hurt me. 

    If at least one of these statements is consistent with their behaviour, it is likely that you are experiencing one or more forms of domestic abuse.

  • Verbal abuse can take the following forms:

    • giving you orders
    • shouting at you
    • insulting you
    • threatening you or your children.

    Can you relate to these statements?

    • They tell me I’m ugly or dirty.
    • They tell me my voice or accent is ugly.
    • They belittle or insult me privately or in front of others.
    • They shout at me.

    If at least one of these statements is consistent with their behaviour, it is likely that you are experiencing one or more forms of domestic abuse.

  • Financial abuse can take the following forms:

    • depriving you of financial resources
    • monitoring your money and spending
    • confiscating your payment methods
    • preventing you from working or persuading you to reduce your working hours.

    Can you relate to these statements?

    • They prevent me from making my own decisions, especially with regard to work or studies.
    • They stop me from working, training or taking transport.
    • They stop me from taking French lessons.
    • They monitor my spending and/or keep hold of my bank card and chequebook.
    • They deny me access to money for essentials. The money they allow me to access does not cover my basic needs.
    • They set conditions for my access to money. For instance, if I anger them, they block my access to money.

    If at least one of these statements is consistent with their behaviour, it is likely that you are experiencing one or more forms of domestic abuse.

  • When there are children involved, most domestic abuse concerns them. Parenting-related abuse can take the following forms:

    • Criticising or devaluing you as a parent.
    • Preventing you from raising your children.
    • Preventing you from intervening to defend your children.
    • Behaving in ways that are dangerous and frightening for your children.

    Can you relate to these statements?

    • They ask you to stop caring for your children to instead take care of them.
    • They decide what you can and cannot do with your children.
    • They make all the important decisions regarding your children: school, health, etc.
    • They criticise how you raise your children.
    • They tell your children that you are a bad person.
    • They forbid you go out with your children without telling them.
    • They decide when your children can visit your family.
    • They threaten to keep your children if you leave them.
    • If you have a disability, they devalue you as a parent because of this.

    If at least one of these statements is consistent with their behaviour, it is likely that you are experiencing one or more forms of domestic abuse.

  • Administrative abuse can take the following forms:

    • confiscating or imposing conditions on your access to your administrative documents: identity card, passport, residence permit, healthcare card or "carte vitale", family record book or "livret de famille", health record book or "carnet de santé", diplomas, tax notices, etc.
    • threatening to report you so that you are deported from France
    • checking your correspondence: letters, emails, text messages, etc.

    Can you relate to these statements?

    • They keep my identity documents with them.
    • They keep our children's identity documents with them.
    • They read the letters I receive.
    • They warn me that I will be deported from France if I leave them.
    • They threaten to leave me so I will lose my French residency rights.
    • They control all my administrative affairs, even though I want to be independent.

    If at least one of these statements is consistent with their behaviour, it is likely that you are experiencing one or more forms of domestic abuse.

  • Physical and material abuse can take the following forms:

    • discarding or destroying objects
    • shaking you
    • hitting you, with or without an object
    • biting you
    • burning you
    • strangling you
    • pushing you 
    • restraining you and preventing you from moving freely
    • confining you

    Can you relate to these statements?

    • They become aggressive at times – they can break things.
    • They've been physically violent with me – they've hurt me physically.
    • Sometimes they get violent, but then they say sorry and promise not to do it again.
    • They force me to use drugs or alcohol.
    • They've tried to prevent me from taking medication or seeing a doctor when I needed to.

    If at least one of these statements is consistent with their behaviour, it is likely that you are experiencing one or more forms of domestic abuse.

  • Sexual abuse can take the following forms:

    • harassing you sexually, i.e. repeatedly addressing you with sexual or sexist language or behaviour
    • forcing sexual practices on you
    • forcing you to have sex
    • forcing you to have sex with others in exchange for money.

    Can you relate to these statements?

    • They force me to do things sexually that I don't want to.
    • They force me to have sex when I don't want to.

    If at least one of these statements is consistent with their behaviour, it is likely that you are experiencing one or more forms of domestic abuse.

  • Online abuse can take the following forms:

    • monitoring your movements and relationships using digital tools: telephone, computer, etc. 
    • harassing you via text messages, calls or social media. 
    • threatening to post information, photos or videos about you online.

    Can you relate to these statements?

    • They harass me with texts, calls or online messages.
    • They check my phone, computer and social media. 
    • They threaten to publish private information about me.
    • They tell me what I should post on social media.

    If at least one of these statements is consistent with their behaviour, it is likely that you are experiencing one or more forms of domestic abuse.

When does it happen?

Domestic abuse can occur between any couple who have or have had an intimate relationship: married, in a civil partnership or union, living together or apart, official or not. 

It can happen at any point in the relationship, even after separation. 

However, there are some situations in which abuse more likely to emerge or intensify:

  • when the couple gets married 
  • moving house, especially when relocating abroad
  • a pregnancy, whether desired or not, and the years following the birth of the child 
  • important decisions regarding children
  • separation and the period that follows.

One of the most dangerous moments is when the abusive partner feels that they are losing control and dominance, often when the couple breaks up. It is recommended that you prepare yourself well, alert those close to you and surround yourself with professionals who are experts in domestic abuse. 

Abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of age, background, professional or financial situation. There is no such thing as a typical victim or abuser.  

Common misconceptions

  • It is important to differentiate between conflict and domestic abuse:

    • Conflict is normal in a relationship. This is because both partners do not always agree on certain subjects. However, in these situations, everyone can give their opinion, and decisions are made based on compromise. This is an equal relationship.
    • The hallmark of domestic abuse is dominance of one partner over another. The partners are not in an equal relationship. One enforces power over the other in order to dominate, control and create a dependency on them.
    • If, in an argument, your partner uses any of these abusive behaviours, it is no longer a normal argument, but rather domestic abuse.

    If your partner adopts behaviours of this kind more or less continually, or even outside of arguments, this is domestic abuse.

  • An abusive partner generally takes power by being very involved in the relationship. They are often highly manipulative people, who manage to fool those around them.

    They can pass for the perfect partner: 

    • they appear very attentive and provide lots of assistance to their partner
    • they can shower them with attention 
    • they declare feelings of love in a short space of time. 

    These are actually strategies to take control. They then succeed in isolating their partner, making them doubt themselves and lose confidence in themselves. Their partner then becomes dependent on them.

  • It is not your fault in any way if they commit one of these types of abuse. There is no justification or excuse for abuse.

    Outside of the intimate relationship, perpetrators of domestic abuse often appear charming, generous, and respectful. But that does not reflect who they really are in their intimate relationship. They manipulate the people around them and are particularly good at doing so.

  • It is not your fault in any way. 

    It is very common for women to find themselves with an abusive partner more than once. 

    Male violence is very present in our society, to the extent that one in three women are faced with domestic abuse during their lifetimes. This means that many men commit domestic abuse in the course of their lives.

  • Unfortunately, your partner is unlikely to have changed.

    Domestic abuse often occurs in a cycle in which four phases follow each other at a variable rate, each of which increases control over the partner who is experiencing the abuse:


    • Your partner is increasingly impatient, intolerant and/or aggressive.
    • This creates an atmosphere of tension and fear within the relationship.
    • You are worried that violence will erupt and you try to meet their needs.
    • You watch what you do and say.

    Incidents of violence

    • Your partner asserts power and control over you.
    • They control, harm and/or humiliate you.
    • You adopt different protection strategies.


    • Your partner uses external reasons to justify their violence.
    • They try to make you believe their behaviour was legitimate.
    • They may minimise the seriousness of what has happened.
    • You try to understand their reasons and may even end up thinking it is your fault.
    • You believe that by changing your approach, it will not happen again.


    • Your partner wants to maintain the relationship and regain your trust.
    • The violence diminishes or disappears.
    • They are attentive and make you feel like they are making an effort.
    • They can appear vulnerable.
    • You feel like you have rediscovered the person you fell in love with.
    • You may end up lowering your expectations of your partner and even changing your own habits in the hope that this period will continue or that your partner will change.

    The more these cycles repeat, the more frequent these periods become, and the periods of calm become rare. 

    Gradually, your tolerance will increase, and this may prevent you from seeing the abuse, which has become everyday.  

  • You are not responsible. However they justify it, your partner or ex-partner is the only person who is responsible for the violence they cause you. 

    Their behaviour is illegal and punishable by law. 

    Unfortunately, domestic abuse is very common. One in three women will experience at least one form of male violence in their lifetimes.

Find support

In France, there are many services that can support you, give you advice, and assist you with procedures and paperwork. Most of them are free of charge.

  • This telephone counselling service is intended for people facing all types of violence and those who support them.

    • This service is free of charge.
    • On the telephone, a trained counsellor will listen to you and support you. They can then direct you to relevant services near you.
    • Languages available: interpretation in all languages.
    • Contact: call 3919, available 24/7. The call will not appear on your telephone bill.
    • For people who are deaf, have difficulties hearing, people with aphasia or who have language impairments, you can access a service adapted for your needs by clicking on the telephone icon at the bottom right of the website http://www.solidaritefemmes.org.
  • The “Centres d'Information sur les Droits des Femmes et des Familles (CIDFF)” helps the general public, especially women, in many areas such as: legal rights, health, employment searches, training, business creation, and even childcare.

    • These services are free of charge.
    • They will be able to inform you of your rights and the steps to take. Some centres can assist you with procedures and paperwork.
    • Languages available: mainly French.
    • Contact: you will find the contact details of the “CIDFF” in your area in this directory.
  • Associations” are organisations that offer a range of services.

    • These services are free of charge.
    • The services offered vary considerably from one “association” to another. They can give you advice and sometimes they can assist you with procedures and paperwork.
    • Languages available: mainly French.
    • You will find a list of “associations” specialising in helping victims of violence near you in this directory by selecting your French department.

While the utmost care has gone into providing you with the most accurate and up to date information, this page is not intended to replace legal or professional advice. Laws and procedures change regularly so it is important to consult qualified professionals.

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