This is a topic I've pondered for some time, and having it recently thrown in my face in another context, I'm going to address it here - safe from strategic deletion. A more formal listing may be found at Turning Point Services.
Spousal/partner abuse seldom ever starts out as a couple of folks beating on each other with 2x4's in the front yard. It's most usually a continuum, starting small and evolving into more and more major events, with (more often than not) tragic results. Once begun, stepping off the spiral downwards is not easy for either the abuser or the abused.
Regrettably, it's a game everyone can play - gay/straight/bi or male/female/trans. But oddly, nobody ever wins this game - instead, if they are lucky, they escape with only minimal damage.
It usually starts with belittling, hectoring, attempts to undermine the targeted partners self-worth and create self-doubt, and attempts to isolate the targeted partner. It seldom stops there. Threats of violence or so-called "light violence"* often kick in during the later stages of this phase or in the next phase.
As things progress, tantrums begin - first over small things, then over essentially random matters. The tantrums are less about any actual grievance than an attempt to control the targeted partner.
Next, objects of emotional significance to or actually owned by the targeted partner start getting destroyed or damaged as "punishment" by the abuser, purposefully and with malice. The target is told if they hadn't "done *x* behavior" the object wouldn't have been damaged/destroyed, and it's all the targets fault...and since it's their fault, any expectation of recompense for damages is offensively unreasonable.
As things proceed, actual violence begins against either the target or a proxy (pets and children are the most vulnerable as proxies, as they are not awfully good at fighting back). Proxies happen either as a precursor to abusing the targeted partner, or when the targeted partner is too intimidating (physically or otherwise) for the abuser to target while conscious. Children and pets are also often held as hostages against the target - threatening to deprive the target of their custody or companionship, or alternatively, threatening to directly harm the aforementioned hostages.
Violence typically then escalates until someone goes to the hospital or the morgue, or until the police or others intervene.
Obviously, it's desirable to intervene well before the end game...if only to keep down the number of tax dollars spent on cops, trials, and jails. Simple decency might, perhaps, be a reason as well.
If you recognize any of these behaviors in yourself, in your partner, or in the relationships of friends - speak out. Get help if it's you or your partner. And if it's a friend, help them find help. To do less is, at the very least morally, to become complicit in the abuse and bear an equal amount of guilt for all of its results.
Making all this more complex are the co-conspirators in abuse - enablers, and to some extent, the target themself. Knowing what we know today, if we recognize these events in ourselves, others, or in our partners - the right and healthy response is to talk *publicly* to friends, to family, and to professionals about the right "next steps" - or simply to confirm whether one is hallucinating or not.
Public, because it establishes an obvious paper trail should anything unfortunate happen. And we all have to sleep sometime, no matter how tough we are.
But that's where the enablers step in, morally every bit as guilty as the abuser him/her themselves - "don't talk about that, it's embarrassing!!", "you'll shame the family!!", or "mature folks keep such things to themselves!!", and a variety of other approaches to perpetuating the abusive situation.
Silence is the abusers friend. They try for it through post-abuse contriteness, threats, and manipulation. Enablers help them in that. It can be from ignorance, youth, or mis-placed loyalty - but regardless of the cause, it's a morally bankrupt behavior. Facilitating abuse is simply wrong.
Speaking honestly and openly deprives them of that silence. Daylight is our best tool, as individuals and society, against abuse. In the light of day, there are some things that most folks simply won't tolerate - with good reason.
False accusations and false denials both wither at about the same rate underneath the light of openness - and the trade-off is fewer battered spouses/partners and children.
So speak out. Seek out help. And if you see the early signs in a relationship? It might just be time to run for the hills.
*"Light Violence". Stuff that doesn't usually result in a hospital trip. Examples would include pushing, restraining, blocking doorways, holding down, shoving, shaking a spouse or partner in a non-consensual fashion.