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Worrying about an aggressive partner
What am I up against?

Every relationship is different, and what works for one couple might not be what works for another. But it’s fair to say that no relationship will benefit from partners being aggressive towards each other. There are several forms of aggression - in this article, we will look at physical and psychological aggression.

Firstly, the physical kind. Research tells us that:

10% to 48% of adolescents report experiencing physical aggression in their relationships [1].

These acts include pushing, slapping, hitting, and being held down. Psychological aggression includes:

  • Making fun of the other person or calling them hurtful names.
  • Saying negative things about their appearance, body, or family and friends.
  • Telling them who they can see and where they can go.
  • Constantly checking up on them and what they are doing.
  • Using private information to manipulate or threaten them.

Research also says that:

25%-50% of adolescents report psychological aggression while dating [1].

Physical aggression is often seen to be more harmful, but psychological aggression can be just as damaging to the individual and the relationship. 

How do I deal with it? 
1. Recognise the signs and trust your judgement

Early signs to watch out for are controlling behaviours, threats of violence, attempts to control your social interactions, or a short temper. During a series of interviews with young women who had experienced violence in relationships, they could all recognise these early signs but didn’t always trust their own judgement and leave the relationship. They also said it would have been much easier to get out early, rather than waiting until the relationship was more developed.

2. Consider carefully how long you hold on

Brand new relationships can be powerful and compelling. This is one of the reasons young adults sometimes stay in violent relationships, hoping their partners will get their anger management in check. When there’s a connection with someone, it might be easy to believe that you can fix them, or that you can heal them in some way. But research suggests that as relationships progress, it’s likely the violence will too. The longer you stay in a violent relationship, the worse it’s likely to become [3].

3. Remember that it’s not your fault

If you’re a victim of violence, it really isn’t your fault – even if you feel like you’re making the situation worse. According to research, young people often stay in violent relationships because they feel like it’s their own fault that their partner is behaving in this way.

It’s also quite common for people in a violent or aggressive relationship to justify the behaviour as ‘caring’, or ‘their way’ of expressing love [2]. They may be in difficult circumstances or have suffered past experiences that have contributed to the way they are, but it’s up to them to get help for that. You shouldn’t be punished for their emotional or psychological struggles.

If you continue to put up with this behaviour, there’s a danger that it will become normal in your eyes. It could begin blurring your sense of what is right and wrong, which will make it even more difficult to leave the relationship [2]. 

4. Tell someone

Young men and women who experience violence often don’t report it because they don’t recognise it as violence or think no one will take them seriously [3]. This is most commonly the case with psychological violence, as it is often deemed to be a lesser offence than physical or sexual violence. This is a dangerous assumption; abuse of any kind should be taken seriously.

While it’s a good thing to seek support from a friend, there’s a limit to how much friends can do to protect someone from violence. If you don’t feel ready to go to a formal source of help, like an official support helpline, consider someone you can trust like a lecturer or a teacher. They can be impartial as they’re outside of the situation [3].


[1] Halpern, Oslak, Young, Martin, & Kupper, 2001; Jouriles, McDonald, Garrido, Rosenfield, & Brown, 2005

[2] C. Barter, 2009

[3] Christine Barter et al., 2009

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