What are the Roots of Domestic Violence?

Many factors can contribute to domestic violence, but none excuse hurting another person. Partners who are in healthy relationships respond to problems by talking things out together—or sometimes by seeking therapy—and do not turn to controlling or abusive behavior. You have a right to be respected in all aspects of your relationship.  

The roots of domestic violence and other types of violent relationships are linked to power and control.

If one partner feels the need to dominate the other in any shape or form, whether it is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological, then it is significantly more likely a relationship will turn violent. Research has shown that people with abusive tendencies generally turn violent when they feel out of control. The Power and Control Wheel, originally developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota, shows the elements of power and control that interact that create a pattern of violence and abuse. It can be viewed it here.

It is important to note that abuse is a learned behavior, which, in some cases could have been learned early on in childhood. An abuser may have witnessed domestic violence in his or her home and understood that violence was a means of maintaining control in the family unit.

Significant life changes, such as pregnancy or a family member’s illness, can also increase the risk for domestic violence to occur. In these cases, the perpetrator may feel left out or neglected and may seek to regain control over the survivor.1

Additionally, in economic downturns, incidents of domestic violence increase exponentially. Factors associated with economic downturns such as job loss, housing foreclosures or debt can contribute to higher stress levels at home, which can lead to increased violence. Financial difficulties can also limit options for survivors to seek safety or escape and may have a more difficult time finding a job to become financially independent of abusers.2

Attempts to leave the abusive relationship can also place a survivor at a greater risk for further abuse and, in some severe cases, may increase the likelihood of homicide. The increased sense of abandonment or insecurity can lead an abuser to have a heightened desire to control the survivor. This may make it even more challenging to find a window of opportunity in which he or she can get away from the abuser. For many, staying in the abusive relationship can be safer than attempting to leave at the wrong moment.

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1 Bewley, Susan, Mezey, Gillian C, “Domestic violence and pregnancy,” National Institutes of Health BMJ 314 (1997), 1295. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

2 Bewley, Susan, Mezey, Gillian C, “Domestic violence and pregnancy,” National Institutes of Health BMJ 314 (1997), 1295. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

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