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Why are people violent towards their partners? by John Bolch

In the news yesterday was a story about an English aristocrat who has admitted four counts of assaulting his wife, over a period of 22 years. He is due to be sentenced in February and has been warned by the judge that the offences are so serious that he could face a custodial sentence.

The story reminds us of what all family lawyers already know: that domestic violence occurs in all social classes.

However, it got me thinking: what exactly makes a person violent towards their partner? Thankfully, most people live their lives without resorting to violence – why is it that some people can’t manage this?

After giving the question a little consideration, I have come up with various possible reasons why people become violent. Before I begin, however, please note the following.

Firstly, none of what follows is intended to excuse the perpetrators of domestic violence. There is no excuse for such behaviour.

Secondly, violence by one party can obviously be in response to violence by the other party. I will not be discussing such cases here – instead I will just be looking into why one party may be the instigator of domestic violence.

Thirdly, this is not intended to be a learned psychological discussion. Whilst I have, over the years, read or been aware of such discussions, what follows is just my personal view, based in particular upon my own experiences as a family lawyer and commentator over the last thirty years. I’m sure a psychologist expert in the field would come up with a quite different list, and that they would also take exception to some of my views.

Finally, what follows is not intended to be comprehensive. I’m sure there are many other reasons why people are violent. These are just the ones that I feel may be the most important.

So, having expressed those qualifications, here are a few possible reasons why people may use violence against their partners:

Childhood experiences – in particular, witnessing regular incidents of domestic violence in the household. It is generally recognised that anyone who has had such experiences is more likely to be an abuser themselves, perhaps seeing such behaviour as ‘the norm’.

Maltreatment – anyone who has suffered maltreatment at the hands of others, particularly their parents, is surely more likely to treat others in a similar fashion.

Peers – most people are likely to follow the example of their peers. If their peers are violent, then they may become violent themselves, perhaps initially as a way to ‘fit in’ with the group.

Witnessing violence on a regular basis – perhaps elsewhere in their lives, on television or (dare I say it) in video games. Once again, if violent behaviour is seen to be ‘the norm’, them it may be adopted by the person witnessing it.

Drink/drugs – obviously, anyone who abuses drink or drugs may become violent. This was a particularly common scenario while I was practising as a family lawyer.

Absence of positive factors – lastly, and this is one factor that I have taken from an article by a psychologist, a person may suffer from an absence of positive factors in their life to ‘neutralise’ the negative factors.

Obviously, in any given case it is unlikely that there will just be one of the above factors present.

As I said above, there is no excuse for domestic violence, but hopefully an investigation into its causes will aid understanding and may help us find ways to reduce it in future.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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  1. Paul says:

    Violence, the unlawful version, is begat by one condition only – unresolved frustration. Any knowledgeable person will tell you that. Everything else is froth; accelerants if you insist, but they do not constitute causal factors. The acquisition of self-discipline and self-control is key to managing frustration in self. It constitutes an important life skill, essential to a well-adjusted person and important for a well-functioning society.

    When I was a young lad we weren’t taught life skills as such although the process of schooling itself, sport etc certainly imparted discipline. Our parents and home life did the rest for us, good dads particularly, I feel, were influential although that latter is just personal opinion. Nowadays we don’t have parents that impart discipline. Some parts of the country are radically fatherless too and at schools one can barely distinguish a difference between teachers and pupils. Domestic violence persists although I believe the pattern has changed. It is particularly rife among the young now. Any guesses why? Answers on a postcard please to the president of family division.

    Correlate the incidence of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape with the presence or otherwise of the involvement of natural fathers in families and I believe you will see some interesting results. Although DV itself is ubiquitous, it’s prevalence nowadays is concentrated on the sink estates, those empty deserts of human desolation. Here gender conflict is a way of life in single mother-led families where never-constant men flit in and out at best and raising one’s children becomes a necessary combination of over-indulgence and neglect.

    Punish the perpetrator or bind men back with their children and heal the gender conflict somehow? You tell me.

  2. Stitchedup says:

    Are we talking about real violence here or the recently expanded, catch-all definition Domestic Violence??

    In my opinion, the unlawful version of violence covered under the recently expanded catch-all definition of domestic violence does not equate to real violence.

  3. JamesB says:

    Excellent post Paul.

  4. Paul says:

    I don’t include all that phony nonsense. That’s just there to keep the usual suspects happy and acts a device to keep the money rolling in. Were all that baloney really truly, women would have had prison sentences for nagging long ago. After all, umpteen hundreds of them get put away each year for not paying their TV licences (true!). Nagging must rank all of ten times worse than that heinous crime.

    I was drawing a distinction between DV and state sponsored violence as seen in conditions of war. Half of those come back home so psychologically damaged they occasionally mistake their kitchens for Helmand province.

  5. george says:

    Ha ha!
    Nagging to be treated as DV. If men indulged in nagging I would have no doubt the courts would treat it as DV.

  6. Paul says:

    The problem, George, is that by Lady Hale’s standards – she, that fine creature of the appeal court – nagging is DV as it falls comfortably within that ridiculous catch-all category the DV industry loosely defines as emotional abuse. And she’s already found on one ruling case against a bloke who did it.

    Just like everything else though when it comes to DV – the rules are there to be interpreted one way only; which means by definition, that men never get nagged!

  7. JamesB says:

    Sorry Paul, they do. My wife paid for our divorce as I gave the real reason as her constant moaning and belittling and that was went through as fact proved. Whether it exists as DV with a woman and a husband I suppose is a different matter. I wouldn’t try it. I got nowhere mentioning my ex hit me at handovers, so probably not.

    All the Judge could do was ask us to cool it down and told us a story – which I quite enjoyed.

    One couple before him had a court order that because of fraught relationship that the (Irish husband) and English wife should do handovers outside of a police station.

    Problem was, when the husband parked and waited he was arrested as a potential IRA bomber and ended up in a Police cell for 24 hours. A place many of us (myself included) will have seen in trying to see our children with a mad ex involved. I laughed, think as the Judge and I both laughed at how ridiculous it was that the man always ends up getting locked up with the law in this space as it is.

  8. Paul says:

    Er, James, I wasn’t suggesting for one moment that men don’t get nagged. Quite the contrary. This is after all, the wife’s stereotypical role. You may be confused by the whimsy.

  9. JamesB says:

    I meant even family court acknowledges nagging goes on. But is only dv when men do iit.agree with uou on that. I supposr I try and stick up for the m sometimes. You are probably right that i should not.

  10. Paul says:

    I stick up for parents, James, and good relationships between them at that when they separate. My modest contribution is driven by those beliefs. Those remarks in posts may be construed as misogynism. They are not intended as such and I would apologise for any offence taken. Such effects are more to do with a personal style of making a point through hyperbole than anything. Plus of course I readily confess to a highly politically incorrect sense of humour.

  11. Stitchedup says:

    Another avoidable child death it appears. One child a week killed by their parent – usually the mother. A more balanced approach to DV is desperately needed, one that focuses on genuine violence not hurt feelings, pandering to feminist political correctness or scorned women.

  12. Paul says:

    And where was the father exactly while this sad death of his son occurred? Was he drunk or addicted? Was he excluded, shoved or arrested? Or was he just aimless, drifting, out of work, hapless and hopeless – feckless in a word if you want to use the popular narrative?

    Those are the facts that need reporting.

  13. JamesB says:

    Was on my mobile phone. I meant I sometimes stick up for family court. I am not sure why.

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