Domestic Violence: What You Should Know and How You Can Help

October is domestic violence awareness month, my goal is to give you all a little information about what violence in relationships might look like, the prevalence, what you can do when you’re experiencing violence, and how to support those who might be. Every relationship is unique whether you are reading this and thinking about your own romantic relationship or someone you care for, it is important to recognize that every situation is different, relationships can be complex, and this in no way summarizes every experience.

Conflict is a normal part of intimate relationships. There are times, however, when conflict can result in violence. Intimate partner violence (IPV) describes numerous behaviors that aim to cause harm to a current or former romantic partner.  Different types of IPV include physical violence, sexual violence, emotional violence/psychological abuse, threats, and stalking. Additional behaviors can include financial abuse (for example preventing a partner from earning an income or obtaining financial resources), and relational aggression (for example damaging a partner’s reputation or hurting their social standing).  

Prevalence Rates

We often think these things won’t happen to us, but no one is immune to the threat of partner violence. In fact IPV occurs across all ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and between both same and opposite sex couples. In the United States rates of IPV vary with about 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men reporting they have experienced IPV 1.  These behaviors start early with 1 in 5 female high school students reporting abuse by a romantic partner 2. IPV can have deadly consequences, in fact, it is the leading cause of female homicides and on average nearly three women are murdered a day at the hands of their current or former romantic partner 3

Situational Couple Violence

Fortunately most instances of conflict and most instances of violence do not end in homicide. When we imagine domestic violence we usually picture a partnership with one coercive and controlling partner and another partner that is clearly the victim. While this does happen and can have devastating consequences, it is much more common that a couple engage in what psychologists refer to as “situational couple violence”. This type of violence is less lethal, and usually involves an argument that has spiraled out of control. Situational couple violence is far more likely to be mutual in nature and less frequent. Couples that experience this type of violence in their relationship would likely benefit from counseling services that focus on improving communication between partners, navigating recurring conflict, and tips for de-escalating when emotions run high.  

Tips For De-Escalating Conflict

If you have had this experience some things to help de-escalate conflict include having a negotiated time out, this is a time that you and your partner agree upon to step away from the argument and pick a time to return. Another tip would be to match and de-escalate. When we are confronted with conflict, our default reaction is sometimes to become defensive and in turn get angrier than your partner (match and escalate), this is less than ideal and the trend is a spiral to greater conflict. Instead we should aim to do the opposite, by remaining calm we remind our partner and ourselves, that this is a disagreement, not a fight. Another tip is to hold space, take the time to understand your partner’s perspective and get to the root of the conflict instead of reacting instinctually; get curious about the feelings and concerns of your partner. The goal is always a calm conversation. These are just a few general tips for navigating conflict; additionally speaking with a counselor can likely help to develop specific tips and work through tough issues when it’s hard to handle alone.  

What To Do When Your Partner is Dangerous?

But what happens when this is not possible in your relationship. When it’s not possible to have a calm conversation with your partner. It is still worthwhile to seek counseling. Women with a history of IPV are three times more likely to report that their mental health is poor compared to those who do not have a history of violence. If getting help is possible, it’s worth considering. However, we know that it is not always possible. In relationships with a coercive and controlling partner it may be unlikely that counseling would be considered and may even be seen as a threat; my recommendation for those who feel they are in this situation is to come up with an emergency or safety plan. Have a bag, phone numbers, money and documents, anything you might need. Include information on how to reach a friend, family member, or shelter that you know you can go to. You can even have this bag at another person’s house, if you feel it’s more safe than having it in your own home. Set up a key word with someone you trust so that you can alert him or her if you are in danger. Call the domestic violence hotline for more tips and help with your plan. It doesn’t always feel like it, but there is always a way out. Your safety is incredibly important. Have an emergency plan. 

How Can I Support My Friend?

As you’ve read there are different types of violence and how you respond to your friend might be related to the type of violence they are experiencing. No matter the circumstance, the most important thing you can do for your friend is to be there as nonjudgmental emotional support. Listen to your friend and believe them, it is likely that it is taking your friend a lot of courage to share with you. Offer whatever support you feel comfortable offering, that is likely to be different for everyone and that’s ok. The ways you can help vary but can include anything from suggesting helpful resources to offering to let your friend leave their emergency bag at your house. The level of support you’re able to give might differ, again that is ok.  Follow up with your friend; ask if its ok to follow up, they may want to pretend that they never disclosed, it is not your job to remind them, but as a friend it may be part of your role to follow up. When you do follow up ask “Is now is a good time to talk?’. 

This can be tough for you too. You likely care deeply for your friend, it is important that you get support if you need it too. Any domestic violence hotline available to your friend is also available to you. Additionally counselors are available to help you navigate circumstances, conversations, and feelings that may arise while supporting a friend experiencing IPV. Experiencing IPV and being support for someone who is experiencing IPV can feel incredibly isolating or overwhelming, but you are not alone.

If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic violence please reach out to any of the resources below.

  • The SAFE Alliance
    • (512) 267-7233 24/7 Crisis Hotline
    • (737) 888-7233 24/7 Crisis Text-line
    • 1515 Grove Blvd. Austin, TX 78741
    • http://www.safeaustin.org

Sources

Black, M. C., Basile, K. C., Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Walters, M. L., Merrick, M. T., . . . Stevens, M. R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Silverman, J. G., Raj, A., Mucci, L. A., & Hathaway, J. E. (2001). Dating violence against adolescent girls and associated substance use, unhealthy weight control, sexual risk behavior, pregnancy, and suicidality. JAMA, 286(5), 572-579.


Violence Policy Center  (2020). When men murder women: An analysis of 2018 homicide data. Washington, DC. With Data from the Federal Bureau of Statistics.

 

Written By: Dr. Monica Yndo. Dr. Monica Yndo is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University Texas. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from The University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research focuses on communication and conflict in relationships, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, social support, and family dynamics.