Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence

Intimate Partner Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Relationships

The Myth of Mutual Violence

The idea that LGBTQ IPV is usually mutual is a myth.

The idea that LGBTQ IPV is usually mutual is a myth that doesn’t hold up in reality.

The Myth: The abuser is the partner who is bigger, stronger or more masculine.

Abuse is not just about physical power.4

Abusers come in all sizes and shapes. Those who are larger than their partners can use their strength to intimidate them.

Smaller abusers can use their lack of size or apparent femininity to discredit what their partner says about their violence. She’s a few inches shorter than I am...She’s very pretty. She dressed very femininely. You would look at her and...think she didn’t have a fist.5

Victims who are larger than their partner may be afraid of injuring the abuser by fighting back or defending themselves - something that abusers don’t worry much about.They may also be afraid that others will assume that they are really the abuser, or that they could have prevented the violence if they wanted to. These assumptions can make it harder for those victims to seek help.

The Myth: It’s just a fight — a “lover’s quarrel."

Fighting does not equal abuse, though abuse often happens during a fight. Some couples use physical violence in fights, but neither partner lives in fear of the other or seeks ongoing control.This “situational couple violence” is very different from the “coercive controlling violence” that constitutes battering.6

The Myth: Self-defense equals abuse.

Abusers often label their partner abusive if they use violence to defend against an attack. Victims who hear this may get confused about the meaning of their responsive violence especially if their own values do not support violence.

“I was arguing with him, and...he ripped the phone out...and threw it on the floor...and I remember the receiver hitting the floor and flying up and hitting [our poodle] on the head. And I was so furious...I grabbed him...and pushed him up against the wall...The dog was suffering from his actions. That was enough... no more. His back dented the wall. I was furious. I don’t know — is this mutual abuse?”7

Victims also may label themselves abusive and take responsibility for their partner’s assaults because they are afraid that their partner will retaliate if they tell the truth.

Next: LGBTQ and Heterosexual IPV: Similarities and Differences

Back to Intimate Partner Violence in LGBTQ Relationships homepage


  1. Even in heterosexual relationships, the fact that most abusers are men has more to do with men’s entitlement than with their size and strength.
  2. Renzetti, C. (1992). Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  3. Johnson, M.P. (2008). A Typology of Domestic Violence:  Intimate terrorism, violent resistance, and situational couple violence. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
  4. Lehman, M., (1997). At the end of the rainbow: A report on gay male domestic violence and abuse.