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Violence Between Couples May Not Be Spontaneous

Researcher suggests behavior is more calculated than it might seem

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 28, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Israeli research on domestic violence has found that the violence is usually calculated and that those who become violent do so only if they don't have to pay too high a price.

"The violent partner might conceive his or her behavior as a 'loss of control,' but the same individual, unsurprisingly, would not lose control in this way with a boss or friends," Dr. Eila Perkis, of the University of Haifa, said in a university news release.

Perkis divided domestic violence into four levels of severity -- verbal aggression, threats of physical aggression, moderate physical aggression and severe physical aggression.

"These four levels follow one another in an escalating sequence," she said. "Someone who uses verbal violence might well move on over time to threatening physical attack, and from there it is only downhill towards acting on the threat."

Each type of violence is calculated, she said, with the violence used as a tool for resolving conflict.

"Neither [person] sits down and plans when he or she will swear or lash out at the other, but there is a sort of silent agreement standing between the two on what limits of violent behavior are 'OK,' where the red line is drawn and where behavior beyond that could be dangerous," Perkis explained.

Under such an "agreement," she said, the partner who commits violence understands that there won't be a heavy price to pay for a slap, for example, but also knows that more serious violence would result in more serious consequences and, therefore, refrains from such behavior.

"A 'heavy price' could be the partner's leaving or reporting the incident to the police or the workplace," Perkis said. "As such, it can be said that violent behavior is not the result of loss of control and both sides are aware of where the red line is drawn, even if such an agreement has never been spoken between them."

She suggested that couples who use violence to resolve conflict need to be taught how to better cope with the sources of tension and conflict in their relationship.

"In couples therapy for partners who express the wish to stay together, therapy must be focused on identifying illegitimate motives, such as non-normative tactics for solving conflict, and assisting the couple in acknowledging their ability to convert destructive patterns into effective ones and ultimately to run their lives better," Perkis said.

More information

The American Psychiatric Association has more about domestic violence.

SOURCE: University of Haifa, news release, Oct. 18, 2009
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