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Things to Watch Out For

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Agression, Violence & Abuse  ::   Mental Health   ::   Alcohol & Drug   ::   Living Together   ::   Resources


"Some say love is blind so be careful not to get run over by issues you overlooked."
- James Marshall

Being in love and planning for marriage can be a wonderful time in a couple's life. There are so many things to think about and plan for in terms of wedding preparations that many couples may overlook some of their relationship differences, or even outright warning signs. The purpose of the modules in this section are not to put a damper on your spirits or even discourage you from marrying the person you love. The goal is to have you and your partner think seriously and cautiously about some issues that may have an important impact on the quality of your marriage.

Agression, Violence & Abuse

"The home is actually a more dangerous place for American women than the city streets."
- Dr. Antonia C. Novello

Discussion: Incidence of Abuse

Many couples have wonderful and loving dating or marriage relationships. However, other couples are not so fortunate. It is estimated that 3 million people, mostly women, are assaulted each year by their partner. Violence is a part of the relationship for far too many couples. In fact, domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury to women in the U.S. and more than 1/3 of the women who are murdered each year in the U.S. die at the hands of their boyfriends or husbands. Estimates are that about 1/3 of all women in the U.S. have been the victim of some type of domestic abuse.

Although dating relationships are more likely to be violent than marital relationships (20% occurrence for dating couples vs. 15% occurrence for married couples during the previous year), the contributing factors are the same. For both dating and married couples, incidents of physical aggression are highest for couples who are younger, those who have financial problems, and those where alcohol and/or drug use are involved. However, violence can and does occur in all types of relationships.

Unfortunately, many couples begin their pattern of abuse while they are dating and carry it into marriage. One study showed that 51% of abused spouses reported that they were abused by their partner while they were dating. This research makes it clear that individuals who are violent in their dating relationships will most likely continue being violent in their marriages and this violence will be directed not only towards their spouse, but often towards their children as well. Researchers have found that 70% of men who batter their partners also batter their children.

Therefore, someone who is violent on a date or in a marriage relationship is generally a poor prospect for a long-term relationship. Couples sometimes deceive themselves and excuse their violent behavior by saying they only did it because they care for their partner so much. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Violence is never acceptable in dating or married relationships and it is never an expression of love.

Discussion: Factors Contributing to Abuse

Researchers believe that there are many factors that may contribute to a person's likelihood of being violent in a relationship. Some of those factors include:

  • Youth - Young couples are much more likely to be violent than older couples.
  • Economic Stress - Abuse is more likely in low income families, families with unmanageable debt, and those where the husband is unemployed.
  • Violence in the Family of Origin - Growing up with abuse makes it easier to repeat the pattern either as an abuser or as the victim.
  • Low Self-Esteem - Abusers often feel inadequate and try to use violence to gain control and "respect." Victims often think poorly of themselves as well.
  • Isolation - Abusers often feel isolated and alone and feel like they have no one to turn to in stressful times.
  • Alcohol - Alcohol often plays a role in abusive behavior. Alcohol is not an excuse or justification for violence, but it may make the problem worse.
  • A Violent Environment - Living in a violent neighborhood and/or surrounding oneself with violent media may desensitize people to violence in their own relationships.
  • Win at any Cost Attitude - Society teaches us (boys in particular) that winning should be the ultimate goal for whatever we do. Violence is sometimes seen as a way to win or get what you want.
  • Objectification of Women - Advertising and the growing prevalence of pornography may contribute to the depersonalization of women, and if someone is an object, or less than a person to us, using force with them may seem more justified.

Discussion: Patterns of Abuse

Researchers and clinicians have identified a three-phase cycle of abuse that seems to keep batterers in control and keep their victims from leaving them.

  1. A tension-building phase (where the batterer takes offense at almost anything the victim does or does not do).
  2. An explosion phase (where the actual battering takes place).
  3. A loving or honeymoon phase (where the batterer rewards the victim for staying in the relationship and promises they will never do it again).

Unfortunately, many batterers are so convincing and skilled in the honeymoon phase that their victims will continue to stay with them, often through years of abuse. The honeymoon phase can be very rewarding with gifts, promises, and an outpouring of affection.

Discussion: What to Do?

Prevention is the best approach to dealing with the problem of domestic violence. Alternatives to aggressive conflict resolution should be taught at home, in the schools, and in churches and this teaching should begin in childhood.

However, for those people already involved in a violent relationship the problem is more complicated. It is unlikely that a batterer will change his or her behavior without a genuine desire to change and without professional help. Therefore, professional counseling is one of the best resources for couples in a violent relationship.

Counselors often advise victims to seek refuge with a friend, relative, or a women's shelter. This can be scary and difficult for the victim, even though their situation at home is less than desirable. Batterers often panic when their victims leave because they feel like they are losing control. When the batterer feels like they are losing control, they are likely to be even more violent than they have been in the past. Fortunately, police departments now take domestic violence calls much more seriously than they did in the past and they are more likely to make an arrest. Women's shelters also provide safe, secure, environments for women and their children that family and friends may not be able to provide.

If you are currently in an abusive relationship, seek professional help with a counselor, through a shelter, or by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) (TDD: 1-800-787-3224).


Copyright 2008, James P. Marshall. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, December 06). Things to Watch Out For. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License