I just read an article by the Gottman Institute on the difference between situational violence in a marriage and characterological violence. Mike DeMoss from Family Christian Counseling Center has post graduate training in the Gottman method of marriage therapy. I never enjoy reading articles about domestic violence, but I thought it was important to describe what the research is showing: what is the difference between each and what should be done about each?
What is situational violence according to Dr. Gottman? Situational violence occurs most often with couples who lack conflict resolution skills. Generally, both partners feel remorse, understand the impact, and internalize the blame. Treatment for the couple should prioritize conflict management, with an emphasis on repairing what he calls “flooding”.
Flooding is the overwhelming negativity that can happen in the middle of an episode. It is usually in the form of contempt or criticism. The couple must learn to recognize and reign in what he refers to as the “Four Horseman” so that conflict does not escalate. The four horsemen are 1) contempt, 2) criticism, 3) defensiveness, and 4) stonewalling. With the aid of therapy, the couple can replace toxic conflict patterns with a sense of friendship and shared meaning.
Repair any statement or action — silly or otherwise — this prevents negativity from escalating out of control and is an advanced skill for couples. But skills can be learned. You’ve heard the phrase, “practice makes perfect.” No, NO – practice makes permanent. If you practice poor conflict management, it’ll become permanent. Practicing repair shifts the balance away from the conflict and toward the couple. Get creative.
Characterological domestic violence
Characterological domestic violence however is very different. One partner is the perpetrator; the other, a victim. The perpetrator takes no responsibility for the violence and instead blames the victim for causing it. There’s nothing the victim can do to stop the violence, which often causes her major injuries or even death. Victims are mostly female.
Dr. Gottman’s research revealed two types of characterological perpetrators: “Pit bulls” (although I think this is a disservice to pit bulls) and “Cobras.” Pit bulls fear abandonment. They are jealous, possessive, domineering and often isolate their partners. Cobras may be psychopaths. They are belligerent, unpredictably explosive, and strike out of nowhere. No one has found a treatment that stops characterological domestic violence. To escape potentially hurtful consequences, the victim needs to separate from the perpetrator and seek safety elsewhere. Twenty percent of domestic violence is characterological, while eighty percent is situational. The victims of characterological violence now fill our shelters. If you would like to talk with someone highly trained in helping couples in marriage conflict please call our office and set up an appointment.
If you would like to read more about Mike DeMoss’s approach to marriage therapy please click on the link.