Does your romantic partner try to control you?  For example, does your partner try to control what you wear, how you spend your day, who you make friends with, or where you work if you are even “allowed” to work?  And, to control you, does he or she use insults, threats, and violence (e.g., pushing, hitting, slapping, choking)?

If so, then you are a victim of domestic violence (also called domestic abuse).  Domestic violence refers to physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological violence that occurs in domestic settings, like in a marriage or family.  Domestic violence is typical, though not always, committed by men toward women.

Explaining domestic abuse

Researchers have offered a variety of answers to the question of what causes domestic abuse.

To illustrate, one theory suggests a major cause of domestic violence is patriarchy—beliefs, rules, and practices that promote male domination.

Though this theory makes intuitive sense, it fails to explain female aggression that is not motivated by self-defense; nor does it explain domestic violence between sex-same partners.  Therefore, some theorists argue patriarchy may elucidate only certain types of domestic violence.  For example, consider the model below, which proposes the existence of three types of intimate partner violence:

  • Coercive controlling violence: Also known as battering, this form of violence often involves a male perpetrator attempting to control a female victim—who is not violent or who resists in a non-violent way. Coercive controlling violence is usually motivated by patriarchy.
  • Mutual violent control: Occurs when both people in a relationship engage in violent and controlling behaviors.
  • Situational couple violence: Situational couple violence is not related to patriarchy or a general desire to dominate or control one’s, romantic partner. It is simply the result of a conflict (e.g., arguing about money that escalates out of control).

Other theories have attempted to provide a “gender-inclusive” explanation for domestic violence.  For instance, the nested ecological model suggests risk factors for violence exist at four levels: macrosystem (cultural beliefs), exosystem (job-related stress), microsystem (the couple’s interaction patterns), and ontogenic level (personality, emotions, and thoughts).

Treating

Let us end by discussing how victims of abuse can get the help they need.

So, what should you do if you are a victim of domestic violence?  In general, the first steps are:

  • Know and understand your legal rights (e.g., know what the police can do for you).
  • Learn about your options (e.g., by calling a local women’s shelter and asking for advice).
  • Create a safety plan.

What about treatment?  After all, being a victim of abuse is associated with numerous mental and physical health issues—anxiety, depression, sleep difficulties, somatization, pain, fatigue, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, etc.

In terms of treatment, a variety of interventions are available for victims of domestic abuse.  Aside from crisis intervention (to deal with immediate threats), these interventions include individual psychotherapy, psychoeducation, supportive therapy, group counseling, and community programs.

These treatments can offer validation and support, teach important skills (e.g., to solve everyday problems, to build social support), identify and address the negative effects of abuse (e.g., emotional and psychological trauma), and empower victims to regain control of their lives and their futures.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse, remember that violence is never okay in an intimate relationship, so do not try to justify the abuser’s behavior.  And when it happens once, it will probably happen again.  In other words, do not wait until it is too late.  It is up to you to take the first step, but know you are not alone: Help is available.