Domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence) negatively impacts adults, families, children and communities. Domestic violence (DV) can range from the apparently mild – such as a single incident of pushing or slapping – to the very severe, such as repeated beatings leading to injury and, more often than many could believe, accidental death. Even apparently mild cases of DV can become severe quickly, and in most cases DV does not get better without outside intervention and some very direct action by the recipient of the violence such as police intervention or leaving the relationship.
Relationships and Domestic Violence
Domestic violence appears to be most commonly committed by men against women, but all genders are possible of being domestic violence perpetrators, and in some relationships the violence goes both ways. Certainly, in general, men are bigger, stronger, and more likely to display aggression than women (though there are plenty of exceptions) and women are at greater risk statistically, by far, of being seriously injured by domestic violence.
Domestic violence usually does not occur suddenly or in an isolated context without warning signs. Most often, it occurs in the context of a controlling, emotionally abusive relationship between a person with an aggressive personality and one who is more passive. Other forms of abuse are already present, such as controlling finances, isolating the victim, making threats, and verbal abuse.
Relationship Cycles and Domestic Violence
Domestic violence usually has some predictable cycles, often described as:
- Tension – Arguments and threats in the relationship escalate.
- Act of violence – Usually violence becomes more severe over time.
- Honeymoon – During the honeymoon phase the couple reunites, experiences intense
“closeness,” idealizes the emotions felt in the relationship, and promises never to fight
again. Often the perpetrator of the violence apologizes profusely, or blames the
recipient, who often accepts the blame, especially early in the relationship.
Counseling for Couples and Domestic Violence
It is important to know that couples’ counseling is generally not appropriate when violence is present in a relationship, in particular chronic or severe violence, and certainly when the violent partner does not fully understand the unacceptable nature of their behavior. The safety of the therapy session encourages open communication, but such communication can be dangerous in a violent relationship and subject the recipient to more violence. Also, successful couples’ work is based on the agreement of shared respect for another and shared responsibility for the relationship outcome and process. When violence is present, one person has more power than the other, and is taking less responsibility for his or her actions. Until the violent partner gets help to stop their abusive behavior, and until the recipient is able to discover why he or she tolerates such abuse, couples work is likely to harm more than it helps.
Therapy for Survivors of Domestic Violence
Therapy can be a powerful tool to facilitate healing in survivors of domestic violence. Children who were victims of domestic abuse carry scars of their trauma into adulthood, often seeing the negative consequences of the trauma manifest through lost jobs, troubled relationships and unhealthy behaviors. By addressing, rather than avoiding, the trauma of domestic violence through therapy, survivors can free themselves of fear, resentment and guilt. Therapy allows a survivor to identify their role in the trauma and let go of self-blame. By acknowledging they were a victim, not a perpetrator; clients are able to see themselves in a new light, often seeing their own value and self-worth for the very first time. Survivors of domestic violence struggle with self-esteem, abandonment, fear and post-traumatic stress that can impact every area of their lives. Therapy allows these clients to gain a healthy perspective on the trauma, thus decreasing the negative symptoms associated with it.
Therapy for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence
Counselling for the perpetrators of domestic violence is just one strategy being promoted in support of the goal of ending violence against adults, families and children. Individual therapy can provide an awareness of powerful unconscious emotions, which is an important first step in taking control of their violence. Responsible individual counselling focuses on safety concerns first, then explores attitudes that condone violence against others, and finally examines childhood trauma issues.