Families and Domestic Violence

Module Sections:

Patterns of Domestic Violence

Situational Violence

It is commonly termed common couple violence and is defined as intimate partner violence that is not embedded in such a general pattern of controlling behaviors. It is thought to be usually less injurious and severe, with physical violence more often used by both members. Its particular causes may vary from couple to couple and across different incidents of violence experienced by the same couple, but there is no relationship-wide pattern of controlling behaviors.

This pattern of intimate partner violence is not rooted in a general pattern of control but occurs when specific conflict situations escalate to violence (Johnson & Leone, 2005). It occurs as a result of occasional conflicts motivated by reactivity (out of control outbursts), retaliation (“you hurt me, I will hurt you back”) and communication (“I want him to know that I am really hurt”). This pattern of abuse is very common and occurs frequently.

The physical effects are less severe and so victims do not often seek help. The victim does not usually feel afraid of the abuser but the abuse diminishes the trust and respect in the relationship. Children growing up in homes with situational couple violence may have the same consequences as those witnessing other violence.

Intimate Terrorism

Intimate terrorism is defined by the attempt to dominate one’s partner and to exert general control over the relationship, domination that is manifested in the use of a wide range of power and control tactics, including violence. The best known description is probably that which is embodied in Pence and Paymar’s (1993), Power and Control Wheel, which includes the following nonviolent control tactics:

  • emotional abuse
  • isolation
  • using children as weapons
  • using male privilege
  • economic abuse
  • threats
  • intimidation
  • blaming

The core idea of these theories of coercive control is that even the nonviolent control tactics take on a violent meaning that they would not have in the absence of their connection with violence (Johnson & Leone, 2005). With this pattern of abuse, the victim usually suffers severe injuries and feels demoralized, afraid, incapacitated and trapped in the relationship.

The consequences for women who experience intimate terrorism are different from those who experience situational couple violence. Women subjected to intimate terrorism are attacked more frequently and experience violence that is less likely to stop. They are more likely to be injured, to exhibit more of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome, to use painkillers (perhaps also tranquilizers and antidepressants), and to miss work. Furthermore, they are more likely to leave their husbands, and when they leave, to seek their own residence or escape to locations that ensure safety (Johnson & Leone, 2005).

Audio Companion: Families and Domestic Violence