Is your spouse physically rough or violent with you or your children? Have you ever felt threatened or physically uncomfortable in your own home due to your spouse’s behavior or threatening attitude?

Domestic abuse is a serious problem, and living in an abusive marriage can feel like being trapped inside your own prison. Many relationships that begin well descend into a downward spiral and become abusive, violent and dangerous.

It’s important to be able to recognize violent – or potentially violent – behavior in a partner. It’s also important to know when and how to act, and to understand your legal options for protecting yourself and your family.

In this blog post, we’ll explain how you can identify relationship violence in your marriage, what steps you should take to protect yourself and your children and a long-term solution to end your marriage and restart your personal life.

What is violent and dangerous behavior?

Violence doesn’t necessarily need to be physical. Many people who have ever been threatened by a spouse (or even those who’ve been emotionally abused) may have been affected by relationship violence.

Most people associate violence with punching, kicking and slapping – the type of violence we’re used to seeing on TV and in movies. But violence in relationships takes a wide variety of forms, including:

  • Threatening behavior, such as making threats to hurt you or your child (or even another person) due to their behavior or attitude
  • Sexual violence, such as your spouse attempting to force you to do something sexual against your will
  • Physical violence, such as slapping, hitting, kicking and using objects to hurt you, your children or someone else
  • Emotional abuse and manipulation, such as intentionally locking you out of aspects of your life that are important to you

You’re the best judge of your relationship, and if you ever feel uncomfortable in your relationship or threatened, trust your own judgment. A violent partner can often be a serious threat to your safety, and it’s best to act if you feel unsafe in your home.

How to protect yourself from a violent partner

Relationship violence can occur at any time, even after years of happy marriage. It may be triggered by a change in your partner’s personality or personal situation, a shared financial problem or a dependency on drugs or alcohol.

Whatever the cause of the violence in your relationship, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from a violent partner. Trust your instincts – if you feel unsafe in your relationship, it’s best to take action immediately to make sure you are safe.

First, make a personal safety plan. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides a detailed personal safety plan template online that you can use to create a plan of action in case your partner becomes violent, threatening or manipulative.

If you’re seriously concerned about your partner’s behavior, speak to a close friend or family member and let them know about your situation. It’s always easier to take action with someone by your side to support you in a difficult moment.

If you feel immediately threatened, contact the police and speak to an experienced family lawyer. The police will be able to prevent the immediate threat of violence, while an experienced lawyer will help you seek long-term change in your life.

When you recognize violence or abuse, act on it

All relationships have their ups and downs, and arguments are a normal part of the majority of marriages. You won’t agree with your spouse on everything, and there’s a possibility you may argue and fight (albeit not physically) during your marriage.

Many arguments and disagreements are a normal part of living together for a long time; after all, no two people are perfectly compatible. However, it’s important that you can recognize when a normal disagreement becomes a serious threat.

If you ever feel unsafe in your own home due to your partner, use the safety plan template linked above to give yourself an escape option. Although most marriages are calm and violence-free, it’s important to be prepared if things start getting bad.

When you recognize violence or abuse – whether emotional or physical – build up your confidence and take action. Sometimes, leaving at the right moment can be all it takes to prevent you from being the target of a violent attack or outburst.