Domestic Violence Gottman Research

"Research by other scientists has shown that one out of every three couples has at least one violent episode before marriage, with more afterward. Their domestic violence can be categorized as either situational or characterological. 

  • (80%) Situational domestic violence is less severe, does not cause injury, tends to be symmetrical with both partners acting violently, and results in both partners expressing remorse and desire to change.

  • (20%) Characterological violence looks very different. One partner is the perpetrator (most of the time, the male) and the other is the victim. The perpetrator feels no remorse and often blames the victim for his behavior, although there is nothing the victim can do to influence the course of the violence.

(John and Neil Jacobson’s nine-year study of domestically violent couples, they found that 80% of the couples were situationally violent while the remaining 20% were characterologically violent.)

Situational violence usually erupted during escalated quarrels that skidded off the rails. In contrast, characterological violence was used to enforce the perpetrator’s power and control over the victim. It looked like the victims of characterological violence were our randomized clinical trial study with 18-month follow-up showed CTAV to be effective. For the couples studied, the program stopped all domestic violence, improved conflict management skills, deepened friendship and intimacy, and improved relationship satisfaction. These effects were lasting."

Source: Gottman, Julie Schwartz; Gottman, John M. (2015-10-26). 10 Principles for Doing Effective Couples Therapy (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) (p. 30). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

ABUSE is not relationship problem.

ABUSE lies solely with the abusive partner.

Reason couples with abuse without responsibility of either or both partners, is not recommended for couple therapy, because abusive behavior is not a relationship problem.

“The primary reason we don’t recommend couples counseling is that abuse is not a “relationship problem.” Couples counseling may imply that both partners contribute to the abusive behavior, when the choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner. Focusing on communication or other relationship issues distracts from the abusive behavior, and may actually reinforce it in some cases. Additionally, a therapist may not be aware that abuse is present and inadvertently encourage the abuse to continue or escalate.”

There’s no EXCUSE for Abuse

Blame Shifting and Minimizing

January 15, 2014 /

Why do we make excuses? You tell a friend that you’re busy with something else because you’d rather just put your feet up and watch the game. You tell yourself that eating that pint of ice cream was fine because you went running the day before so that cancels it out.


To some extent, everyone makes excuses.

When it comes to people making justifications about their unhealthy actions, it can be difficult to see through these excuses or recognize them for what they are.

Why do we want to believe the excuses a partner makes when they’re treating us badly? Sometimes the justifications sound really good. Especially when we’re looking for something — anything — to help make sense of how the person we care for is acting toward us. It’s normal to want to rationalize what’s going on, because abuse is pretty irrational.

Abusive partners are also skilled at coercion and manipulation. They use excuses to make you feel like what’s happening is your fault.

Let’s take a look at common excuses that abusive partners use and talk about why these, like all “reasons,” aren’t justification for violent and hurtful behavior.

  • “I was drunk/I was using drugs.”

Substance abuse isn’t an excuse for abuse. There are people who drink and use drugs and don’t choose to abuse their partners. Ask yourself: how does your partner act when they’re drunk around their friends? How do they treat you when they’re sober?

A statistics teacher would tell you, “Correlation does not imply causation.” Just because two things happen together (like drinking and violence), it does not mean that one causes the other.

  • “I control you because I care about you.”

Acting jealous, controlling or possessive is not a way to show someone you care. 

  • “You got in my face/made me mad/got me wound up on purpose, and I had no other choice. I can’t control it.”

Stress and anger issues don’t cause abusive behavior. An abusive partner’s actions are always a choice that they make. Ask yourself: how does your partner react when they are angry with other people? Would they fly off the handle at their boss? Chances are probably not, because they know they can’t get away with that behavior around others.

• “I have mental health issues or a personality disorder — ex. I’m bipolar, I have PTSD.”

There are people who have mental health issues and don’t act abusive toward their partners. If an abusive partner is dealing with a mental health issue, ask yourself: have they been diagnosed by a professional? Are they seeking help or taking medications? Do they act abusively toward others (friends, family, coworkers), not just you? 

  • “I grew up in a violent home where I experienced or witnessed abuse”

There are a lot of people who grow up in violent homes who choose not to abuse their partners. Many choose this because of how they grew up — they know how it felt to live in that situation and they want healthier relationships for their partner and their family.

Do you find yourself making these excuses for how you act toward your partner? Or, on the other hand, do any of these excuses sound similar to what you’ve heard your partner tell you when they’re treating you badly?

Being able to recognize excuses for what they are — blames, minimizations, denials — can be a step toward realizing that abuse is never the fault of the person on the receiving end. Remember: partners who are abusive always have a choice about their words and actions.

We’re here to talk: 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).