• What is domestic violence?
  • Questions to ask yourself to help determine if you’re in an abusive relationship
  • Red flags specific to pagans, polytheists, and magic practitioners
  • But my relationship isn’t always bad.
  • I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is domestic violence.
  • I’m currently experiencing domestic violence. What can I do?

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is an escalating pattern of coercive behavior in which one person gains and maintains control over another in an intimate relationship.

Let’s break that down.

“Escalating” – Relationships don’t always start out abusive. Instead they often start with small violations of personal boundaries that are easily apologized for, explained away, or ignored. As those small violations become the new ‘norm’ of the relationship, they eventually increase in frequency, severity, or both.

“Pattern” – We understand that no one is perfect and people make mistakes. However, does it seem to happen a lot? Do you find yourselves falling into the same repeated cycles of behavior? Does it feel like you often have the same kind of arguments in which nothing seems to change or improve for the long-term?

“Coercive” – Sometimes abuse manifests in very physical, very forcible ways. Sometimes it’s subtler: sly comments, guilt-tripping, a harsh look. Coercion does not have to be physically or sexually violent or forceful to be coercive. Instead, the intent is to undermine a person’s ability to freely consent or to make a choice without fear of punishment for making the ‘wrong’ one.

“Behavior” – People who cause harm may have justifications to explain why they do what they do to other people. Sometimes it’s very understandable why they may be acting the way they do! However, that doesn’t mean they’re not responsible for the impact that their behavior is having on the people around them, whatever they “actually meant” by it. You are not responsible for being their caretaker, therapist, or outlet for anger; that’s what professionals are for.

“Power and control” – The fundamental force underlying domestic violence is power and control. One person gains most or all control in a relationship through coercive behavior, and the other person lives in ongoing anxiety or even fear of what the first might choose to do if they get upset.

“Intimate relationship” – We know that gender, sexuality, and romance all appear in as many unique forms as there are individual human beings. An intimate relationship is one in which two or more people are sharing some form of emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, or both; this includes queerplatonic relationships and polyamorous ones as much as it does monogamous, heteronormative ones. This also includes adults who are related by blood, marriage, or other familial ties, such as siblings or parents and their children.

Other definitions may look very different and they can vary from place to place, especially when it comes to law. The core parts to look for are coercive control and fear.

We understand that every relationship is as unique as the people involved in it and that disagreements are normal between people. However, these things can cross the line into unhealthy behavior – and sometimes into an ongoing pattern of abuse.

Questions to ask yourself to help determine if you’re in an abusive relationship:

Does your partner/relative/friend not seem to care about your health and happiness?

Does your partner/relative/friend text you “just to check on you” often enough that it feels intrusive, smothering, or even intimidating?

Is it difficult to share your opinions, thoughts, beliefs, or feelings without being insulted, humiliated, or punished for doing so?

Are you unable to disagree, whether publicly or privately, without being insulted, given the ‘silent treatment,’ or otherwise punished for it?

Do you often find yourself making excuses or apologies for your partner/relative/friend’s behavior?

Are you unable to spend as much time as you want with other friends and loved ones without being made to feel guilty or punished for it?

Does your partner/relative/friend ever limit your access to your own money, bank accounts, SSI, housing vouchers, or other economic resources?

Has your partner/relative/friend ever put their hands around your throat without your explicit consent?

Does your partner/relative/friend ever talk about how they would stalk, scare, or kill you and pass it off as a joke or thought experiment?

Does your partner/relative/friend ever threaten to hurt you or your loved ones? Or threaten to hurt themselves if you try to leave?

Does your partner/relative/friend ever hurt or threaten your pet(s)?

Are you ever pressured into having sex or doing sexual acts that you don’t want to, whether by force, by being asked over and over until you finally say ‘yes,’ or to ‘earn’ access to anything (e.g. food, legal papers, or visitation with kids)?

Do you feel like ending the relationship would actually be more dangerous than staying in it?

None of these are healthy or safe behaviors.

Some red flags specific to pagan, polytheist, and magic-using people:

Does your partner/relative/friend shame, mock, or humiliate you for your religious or spiritual beliefs, whether privately or in front of other people (including your children)?

Does your partner/relative/friend use magic on you without your permission, especially as it concerns sexuality, control, cursing, or punishment?

Do you feel pressured to perform sexual ritual or magic that you aren’t comfortable with or don’t want to do?

Are you unable to worship or practice the way you want to?

Are stereotypes about your gods used to justify your partner/relative/friend’s behavior?

Ex: not being allowed to say ‘no’ to sex because you worship a goddess associated with love

Does your partner/relative/friend make rules about your identity or your role in the relationship based on your profession or skillset?

Ex: “You stay home and care for me and the children because that’s what healers do.”

Does your partner/relative/friend act like they’re only the only legitimate source of knowledge or training when it comes to pagan, polytheist, or magical practice?

Are you unable to participate in a wider community, whether by force from your partner or because the community “just wouldn’t understand/accept you”?

Are you unable to turn down participating in a ritual or ceremony without being shamed, given the silent treatment, guilt-tripped, or otherwise punished for doing so?

Are you told that you’re a “bad pagan” or a “bad witch” for turning down invitations to sexual activity or being uncomfortable with sexual behaviors, whether ritualized or not?

Are you often told that you’re a bad medium, diviner, healer, pagan, witch, magician, etc?

Are you pressured or forced into taking oaths or initiations that you don’t want to, or to worship an entity or entities you don’t want to?

Are you ever pressured into mediumship, possession, or ‘aspecting’ when you don’t want to so that your partner/relative/friend can worship or have sex with the possessing entity?

Does your partner/relative/friend tell you that your own consent about your body doesn’t matter when you’re possessed, channeling, or aspecting?

Are your pets ever hurt or killed “as an offering” or “as a sacrifice”?

Note that neither of these are complete lists of harmful behaviors.

But my relationship isn’t always bad.

One of the most confusing things about domestic violence is how the relationship isn’t always violent. Sometimes your partner might still act like the person you came to care about. You might still have good days, or weeks, or even months! So what’s going on?

Since the 1970s, a pattern of behavior called “the cycle of violence” was made more widely known to help explain the “ups and downs” of domestic violence that many (although not all) survivors experience: periods of calm followed by rising tension, a violent incident, and then apologies, justifications, denial, or blame before things settle back into calm again. However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule: think of it as more like something that’s generally common but which can look different from one relationship to another. There is no “one-size fits all” template for domestic violence.

You can learn more about the cycle of violence from health and advocacy organizations like The National Center for Health Research.

I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is domestic violence.

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between an unhealthy relationship and an abusive one, and relationships can be as complicated as the individual people involved. It’s okay to be unsure. While all abusive relationships are unhealthy, not all unhealthy relationships are abusive: relationships exist along a spectrum.


The Relationship Spectrum” from Love Is Respect

If you’re not sure what to think about your relationship and the questions above aren’t helpful for you, you might ask yourself instead, “Would I be happier if I stayed in this relationship or if I left it?” Be honest with yourself. Remember that while breakups are rarely easy, relationships end every day for reasons that have nothing to do with abuse! It’s reason enough to decide that you would be happier outside of a relationship than in it.

You have options in finding support to help you understand what you’re going through:

  • Contacting a domestic violence hotline in your area, region, or country. Hotlines are free, anonymous, and often have multiple language options.
  • Contacting a text-based service with a domestic violence agency if you’re unable or unwanting to use the phone. For example, the US National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a texting option.
  • Meeting with a local domestic violence advocate in person. You can find local advocacy organizations through:
    • an Internet search
    • calling a local public library
    • checking online community databases, usually hosted by county government offices or the county’s public library system
    • calling United Way at 211 (an international number) to find out what nonprofits are nearest to you.
  • Exploring online resources through national domestic violence organizations, which often post information about recognizing domestic violence and how to stay safe.

I’m currently experiencing domestic violence. What can I do?

It’s useful to decide whether or not you’d like to stay in the relationship. It’s your right to make that decision, regardless of how other people may be pressuring you in one direction or another.

If you do want to leave but can’t, either because of safety concerns or because your resources are limited, that’s also good to know: you can focus on keeping yourself safe while addressing the obstacles preventing you from leaving.

Domestic violence advocates, social workers, and other service providers can be effective allies in developing a plan to stay safe if you want to stay or leave, or in accessing resources that allow you to be more independent.

You might also ask yourself if there’s anyone in your life whom you trust to a) keep your confidence and not share what you say with other people or the person causing you harm, and b) not retaliate on your behalf because of their own anger over what you’ve experienced. This trusted support person or people can help you strategize around safety and other obstacles.

There are different kinds of resources available to you. Take a look at some of the suggestions here and see what options you think may be useful to your situation.

Even if you have trouble believing these things for yourself at this moment, remember:

You deserve to live without fear of being hurt.

You deserve to live your own life the way you want to.

You deserve to make your own choices about your body – including if, when, where, how, with whom, and in what ways you have sex.

You have intrinsic value because you’re a person; your value has nothing to do with any services you can provide for other people.

The abuse is not your fault.

You are not alone.