Power and Control

Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behavior used to maintain power in a relationship by one partner over the other.

While women are disproportionately victims, men are also victim of domestic violence. Reports show that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. While each case is unique, abusers use a range of abusive behavior to control their partners including physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse.

Isolation from friends and family, using children as bargaining tools, and threatening deportation and/or using a victim’s legal status as a means to keep them in an abusive relationship are also common patterns of domestic violence abuse. Often, it is difficult to identify various forms of abuse, particularly when they are indirect or not as obvious as physical and/or sexual violence.

The Power and Control Wheel

The Power and Control Wheel was developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program from the experience of battered women in Duluth who had been abused by their male partners. It has been translated into over 40 languages and has resonated with the experience of battered women world-wide.

Physical and sexual assaults, or threats to commit them, are the most apparent forms of domestic violence and are usually the actions that allow others to become aware of the problem. However, regular use of other abusive behaviors by the batterer, when reinforced by one or more acts of physical violence, make up a larger system of abuse. Although physical assaults may occur only once or occasionally, they instill threat of future violent attacks and allow the abuser to take control of the partner’s life and circumstances.

The YWCA Power and Control Wheel diagram is a particularly helpful tool in understanding the overall pattern of abusive and violent behaviors, which are used by a batterer to establish and maintain control over the partner. Very often, one or more violent incidents are accompanied by an array of these other types of abuse. They are less easily identified, yet firmly establish a pattern of intimidation and control in the relationship.


The Healthy Relationship Wheel

The YWCA Healthy Relationship Wheel is what a healthy relationship would look like, one based on respect, trust, and nonviolence. For instance, instead of using coercion and threats, a partner would resolve conflict or disagreement based on negotiation and fairness. The Equality Wheel was developed not to describe equality per se, but to describe the changes needed for men who batter to move from being abusive to non-violent partnership. Compare and contrast the Power and Control Wheel with the Equality Wheel use them to learn more about the many forms of domestic violence.

THE Healthy relationship WHEEL


Forms of Domestic Violence


  • Abuses hierarchy of privilege
  • Treats them like a servant
  • Makes all the big decisions
  • Acts as “master of the castle”
  • Defines partner roles


  • Prevents partner from getting/keeping a job
  • Makes partner ask for money
  • Blames partner for financial gaps
  • Takes their money
  • Limits or removes access to family income


  • Manipulates religious texts to demand obedience, justify beating, or limit physical movement
  • Coerces partner to have sex by citing it is a God-given right for spouses


  • Controls what partner does, who they see and talk to, what they read, where they go
  • Limits outside involvement
  • Uses jealousy to justify actions


  • Makes light of the abuse
  • Doesn’t take their concerns seriously
  • Denies abuse happened/is happening
  • Shifts responsibility for abusive behavior
  • Says they caused it


  • Makes partner feel guilty about the children
  • Uses children to relay messages
  • Uses visitation to harass them
  • Threatens to take the children away


  • Acceptance of in-law abuse (physical, emotional, and financial)
  • Uses cultural norms to limit physical movement, justify beating, demand subservience
  • Limits partner’s role to “spouse” and “parent” and prevents them from working
  • Prevents the possibility of moving on to another relationship (ruining their reputation)


  • Threatens to deport partner and/or children
  • Reports them to Immigration and Naturalization Services
  • Refuses to fill out paperwork to file for citizenship/ permanent status
  • Intentionally withdraws paperwork once it’s been filed to jeopardize their legal status
  • Prevents them to learn English
  • Isolates them from anyone that speaks their native language


  • Makes and/or carries out threats to do something to hurt the partner
  • Threatens to leave them, to commit suicide
  • Forces them to drop charges
  • Forces them do illegal things


  • Scares partner by using looks, actions, gestures
  • Smashes things
  • Destroys their property
  • Pet abuse
  • Displays weapons


  • Insults
  • Makes them feel bad about themselves
  • Name-calling; calling them ‘crazy’
  • Gaslighting
  • Humiliation
  • Guilt trips

FAQs about the Power and Control Wheel

(From The Duluth Model)

Why was the Power and Control Wheel created?
In 1984, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) began developing curricula for groups of men who batter and victims of domestic violence. They were looking for a way to describe battering for victims, offenders, practitioners in the criminal justice system and the general public. Over several months, they convened focus groups of women who had been battered. They listened to stories of violence, terror and survival. After listening to these stories and asking questions, they documented the most common abusive behaviors or tactics that were used against these women. The tactics chosen for the wheel were those that were most universally experienced by battered women.

Why is it called the Power and Control Wheel?
Battering is one form of domestic or intimate partner violence. It is characterized by the pattern of actions that an individual uses to intentionally control or dominate his intimate partner. That is why the words “power and control” are in the center of the wheel. A batterer systematically uses threats, intimidation, and coercion to instill fear in his partner. These behaviors are the spokes of the wheel. Physical and sexual violence holds it all together—this violence is the rim of the wheel.

How does the Power and Control Wheel disproportionately affect certain populations?
The Power and Control Wheel represents the lived experience of women who live with a man who beats them and offers a more precise explanation of the tactics men use to batter women. We give attention to women’s experience because the battering of women by men continues to be a significant social problem. Men commit 86 to 97 percent of all criminal assaults and women are killed 3.5 times more often than men in domestic homicides. Additionally, young women between the ages of 16-24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence.

When women use violence in an intimate relationship, the context of that violence tends to differ from men. First, men’s use of violence against women is learned and reinforced through many social, cultural and institutional avenues, while women’s use of violence does not have the same kind of societal support. Secondly, many women who do use violence against their male partners are being battered. Their violence is primarily used to respond to and resist the controlling violence being used against them. On the societal level, women’s violence against men has a trivial effect on men compared to the devastating effect of men’s violence against women.

Battering in same-sex intimate relationships has many of the same characteristics of battering in heterosexual relationships, but happens within the context of the larger societal oppression of same-sex couples. Resources that describe same-sex domestic violence have been developed by specialists in that field, such as The Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report, LGBTQ people “experience similar, if not higher, rates of IPDV (intimate partner domestic violence) compared to their cisgender or heterosexual counterparts.” For more information on how domestic violence particularly affects non-cisgender women, please visit “Ending Violence Against All Women.”

The wheel makes the pattern, intent, and impact of violence visible.