Is what I'm seeing family violence?

Family violence isn't always physical. If you’re worried someone's being harmed financially, emotionally or physically here are some things you might notice.

You might feel something isn’t quite right or have noticed a change in behaviour that’s become a pattern.

If you’re worried, then it’s best to ask, as long as this is done gently, tactfully, and safely.

Read about how to talk to someone experiencing family violence, and ways to help them safely, here:
How to talk with someone experiencing family violence


Two women talking at dining room table, with kids toys on top.

Emotional and psychological abuse — some of the signs you might see

Loved ones sometimes notice a change that becomes a pattern when a friend or family member’s relationship becomes abusive, though people might try to keep what’s happening hidden. You might notice that someone is just not ‘being themselves’.

They may have changed, or be acting differently

They may be quieter and less outgoing, they’re looking different — maybe in the way they dress or hold themselves. Perhaps they don’t go out — they may cancel outings you’ve arranged together, they may not have money — even for basics.

They may be being restricted or controlled

They may have to check in with their partner a lot, they may always have to go straight home, they might be cut off or isolated from their whānau and friends and from things like family gatherings, their performance at work may have dropped.

These are just a few possible signs

This isn’t a complete list. And you may not see these kinds of things, but notice others. Or you may just feel uneasy.

Consider the rest of their household too. Have you seen any of these changes in the kids too?

Physical abuse — signs and risks

People being physically abused might or might not have signs of physical injuries. They might hide their injuries, or the abuser might hurt them so that they aren't easily visible.

People being physically abused usually also show the signs of emotional abuse.

If an abuser finds out someone has tried to help their partner, they might punish them.

If the abuser is violent, you could be at risk of violence too.

Economic abuse

If someone’s partner restricts or removes their access to money or basic resources like food, clothing and transport, they may be experiencing economic abuse.

Economic abuse can take many forms, and unlike other forms of abuse is less visible. It can include:

  • Controlling money or other financial assets e.g. putting bank accounts in their name.
  • Spending their partner’s money.
  • Damaging possessions or property.
  • Putting debt in their partner’s name.
  • Preventing their partner from accessing education or work.
  • Withholding child support payments.

If someone wants to leave an abusive partner, a lack of access to money can be a barrier and can lead to dependence on them. Seeking support for economic abuse and other forms of coercive control is important.

Better to ask than to doubt

If your gut's telling you something's going on but you’re not sure, it’s better to ask the person in a safe and non-judgmental way, than not ask. It’s better to find the answer is ‘no’, than find there is abuse and you didn't follow  your instinct.

If you see signs of physical injury, you might feel more certain that abuse is happening, and that you should talk with the person. Make sure you're both safe.