Although post-separation abuse is often discussed in the context of intimate partner violence, abusers may also use these tactics to target friends or family members. Common tactics include intimidation and threats, financial abuse, and stalking.

Ending a relationship of any kind with an abusive person can be a difficult experience, and the end of the relationship doesn’t always mean the end of the abuse.

After you’ve attempted to minimize contact with them, your abuser may attempt to control or hurt you through post-separation abuse tactics. They may also use others to abuse you.

For example, if you move away from an abusive parent, they may mistreat your younger siblings. An abusive co-parent may manipulate the children you share.

Learning about these tactics can help you recognize and understand them so that you can keep yourself safe.

Abusers can use some post-separation abuse tactics to harm their target directly, while other tactics may extend to children and adolescents.

Coercion and threats

Abusers may attempt to control (coerce) you by threatening you. Threats may be obvious or thinly veiled.

For example, they may say something like, “God forbid something happens to your car” or “It would be such a shame if your family saw those nudes of you.”

They may threaten to:

  • harm you physically
  • damage your physical possessions
  • compromise your career or reputation
  • use the law against you (for example, sue you or report you to welfare)
  • share private information or secrets with others (like outing you as LGBTQIA+)
  • keep you from seeing your children, friends, and even pets

They may also threaten to hurt themselves — through self-destructive behavior, drug use, or suicide — in order to control you.

Intimidation and fear

Abusers may try to get you to fear them by:

  • describing how they have harmed or assaulted people in the past
  • destroying your property
  • using intimidating gestures (like raising their hand to strike you)
  • displaying weapons

Isolation and discrediting

Isolation is a common form of mental or emotional abuse. An abuser may push you to end relationships or distance yourself from loved ones so that you remain dependent on them.

Even after your relationship with an abuser has ended, they may attempt to isolate you from others.

They could do this by making you look mentally unstable, spreading rumors about you, or making your allegations of abuse look false in order to make others distance themselves from you.

Financial abuse

You may still be financially dependent on the person after separating, or you may have mutual financial obligations, such as a mortgage or your children’s expenses.

They might:

  • block you from accessing bank accounts and credit cards
  • use your credit cards to damage your credit score
  • not pay their debts toward you or your mutual debts
  • refuse to pay maintenance or alimony, even when court-ordered
  • break or “lose” items you’ll need to replace (like car parts or children’s medication)
  • refuse to pay necessary bills (like school fees or gas bills) or pay them late

Harassment, monitoring, and stalking

An abusive person may try to monitor your whereabouts and behavior. They may engage in harassment — which includes excessive calls, emails, or texts — to try to stay in your life.

Monitoring and stalking can include using apps or devices to record your activities and communications. They may also use a tracker on your car without your knowledge or consent.

Abusers may also monitor your social media activities or ask others about your whereabouts, activities, and communications.

Legal abuse

Abusers sometimes use the legal system in order to harass and control their target. They may file false reports of child abuse or neglect or falsely accuse you of criminal behavior.

They could also attempt to sue you or draw out court proceedings in order to harass or impoverish you.

Minimizing, denying, and blaming

Abusers may try to make their abuse seem like your fault, or they may deny it happened altogether.

This can include:

  • minimizing abuse by making light of their actions or accusing you of over exaggerating
  • denying that certain things happened at all
  • blaming you, someone else, or something else for their behavior

Sometimes, these tactics are a form of gaslighting. Gaslighting is a type of manipulation where an abuser makes you question your beliefs, sanity, and perception of reality.

Physical violence

Physical abuse is when someone intentionally causes injury, trauma, or bodily harm to you.

As a means of control, they may also physically abuse someone close to you — such as a child, mutual friend or family member, or even a pet.

If you have children with your abuser, they may use your children to abuse you.

Some of these tactics can be used with children who are not yours (for example, your abusive parents may use your relationship with your younger siblings against you).

Parental alienation allegations

Parental alienation is where a parent or guardian deliberately attempts to distance a child from their other parents or parental figures.

The abuser may attempt to ruin the relationship between the child and their other caregivers. They might paint a negative picture of the other adults to the child or not allow contact between the child and their other caregivers.

Some abusers coach children to say they were harmed by the other adults. Abusers may also falsely accuse their target of parental alienation.


Counter-parenting is when an abuser works against the other caregivers instead of cooperating.

They may intentionally oppose the other caregivers on all major parenting decisions. This may be done in order to be difficult, to upset the other caregivers, or to gain the child’s favor.

For example:

  • deliberately disrupting a child’s routine or schedule (for example, disrupting naps, changing feeding times, arriving for a visit just before school)
  • encouraging the child to break rules or be insubordinate
  • undermining the boundaries or rules set by other caregivers

Neglectful or abusive parenting

This abuse may be emotional, verbal, physical, or even sexual in nature. The abuse may be subversive, especially if they’re currently involved in a custody battle, to avoid losing contact with their children.

Subversive abuse may look like neglect. For example, the abuser might neglect to feed or wash the child. They may also deliberately put the child at risk of harm — for example, by not applying sunscreen or using a safety belt in the car.

If you think your abuser is attempting to control or harm you further, trust your instincts. Sometimes, abusers change tactics after you separate from them. Their abuse may get worse, or it may take a different form.

It’s not easy to know how to respond to post-separation abuse. A lot depends on your individual circumstances. What may be a useful tactic for one person may be a dangerous move for another.

One or more of the following strategies may help you:

  • Try not to reason with them: Reasoning often doesn’t work with abusers — and it’s not your responsibility to convince them to treat you properly.
  • Set boundaries where possible: This can look like refusing to engage in arguments even if they seem to bait you into it.
  • Limit contact: If you can’t avoid them altogether, try to keep your contact limited to public spaces or events where others are around.
  • Limit their access to you: This could include creating a separate bank account or applying for a new credit card (that they can’t use). Change your passwords to social media accounts if you suspect they have access.
  • Confide in people you trust: Close friends and family members can provide emotional support.
  • Join support groups: Support groups can help you process your experience in a safe environment. They can also help you navigate your abuser’s attempts to control you further.
  • Get help: Hotlines, domestic violence shelters, and counselors can be great sources of advice and practical help. We have an extensive list of domestic violence resources.

You could also document the abuse. As mentioned, abusers may use post-separation abuse tactics like minimizing the abuse, denying it happened, or blaming you.

Documenting the abuse as much as possible can help you build a case against them, should you need it. The Hotline has a helpful guide on documenting abuse.

These models were created to describe intimate partner violence enacted by a male abuser toward a female survivor.

However, these frameworks can be used to understand abusers of any gender, and they may be used to target former partners as well as estranged family members, children, friends, and more.

Cycle of abuse

The cycle of abuse, also called the cycle of violence, was developed in 1970s by psychologist Lenore Walker in her book “The Battered Woman.”

This cycle involves four stages that repeat over time:

  1. building tension
  2. an incident of abuse
  3. reconciliation
  4. calm

While this cycle can help people understand abuse, it has its limitations, and not everybody experiences this “cycle” in the same way.

Power and coercive control wheel

Created by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, the power and control wheel — also called the Duluth wheel — was developed in the 1980s. It was created using focus groups of female survivors.

Abuse tactics mentioned in the wheel include:

  • intimidation
  • emotional abuse
  • isolation
  • minimizing, denying, and blaming
  • using children
  • using male privilege
  • economic abuse
  • coercion and threats

Although this model is used to describe abuse happening in an ongoing relationship, abusers may use these tactics to control their targets after separation.

Post-separation abuse wheel

The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project also created the Duluth post-separation wheel.

This wheel notes common post-separation abuse tactics and examples of each type of abuse, including:

  • physical and sexual violence against mother and children
  • harassment and intimidation
  • undermining her ability to parent
  • discrediting her as a mother
  • withholding financial support
  • endangering children
  • disregarding children
  • disrupting her relationships with children

While this wheel is gender-specific, similar tactics can be used by abusers of any gender to target people of any gender.

The equality wheel

The equality wheel was created to describe the changes that abusers need to take if they want to move from being abusive to nonviolent partnership.

The equality wheel lists important aspects of healthy relationships, such as respect, responsible parenting, and honesty and accountability.

While post-separation abuse can be highly distressing, it’s possible to find support in order to keep yourself (and others) safe from your abuser.

You can find support here:

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.