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Is there such a thing as mutual abuse?

You might think that it would be easy for you to recognize when you have experienced abuse by your domestic partner. However, abusers and the people who represent their interests sometimes make claims of “mutual abuse.” Theoretically, this is a claim that both partners are equally to blame for the situation of domestic violence. In practice, it rarely occurs, if ever. 

It is possible for both partners to engage in relationship behaviors that are unhealthy. If you have recognized unhealthy behaviors in yourself, you may believe that there is some validity to the claim of mutual abuse. However, domestic violence arises from an imbalance of power within the relationship. If your partner is the one who exerts control over you, then you are not in a position to commit abuse in return. 

Willingness to seek change 

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the main difference between an abuser and a survivor is that the survivor is often willing to seek a change in the situation. Your willingness to ask for help, even if it is to modify your own behavior, indicates that you do not have a need to exert control over the situation, which is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a domestic abuser. 


Admittedly, it is not healthy to engage in violence against a partner or engage him or her in an intense argument. With that said, nothing that you do to defend yourself qualifies as abuse. Even if you react physically to your partner, it is not abusive if you act to counter a perceived threat to your safety. This is true regardless of what your partner says later to manipulate you or try to shift the blame.