Causes of Relationship Abuse

Causes of Relationship Abuse

There are many myths about the causes of relationship abuse.  The myths most often cited are:

“He gets really mean (or violent) when he is drunk (or on drugs).”

“He has serious anger management issues.”

“He said he was just really stressed out and couldn’t take it anymore.”

“He has really low self-esteem and is insecure and needs constant validation.”

“He is really depressed (or has another mental disorder).”

“Domestic violence occurs mostly in bad or poor neighborhoods.”

“He was abused as a kid, so he is doing what he learned.”

While these issues (alcohol or drugs, anger management issues, stress, low self-esteem, mental disorders, poverty, bad economic times, or previous exposure to abuse) may be simultaneously present in an abusive relationship, they are NOT the cause of the abuse.  The same logic applies to each of these arguments: the majority of abusers do not have the condition present, and while there are many people who have that condition in general, most of them do not choose to be abusive.  For example, most abusers are not insecure or do not have alcohol or drug problems, and while many people are insecure or do have alcohol or drug problems, most of them do not choose to be abusive.  This logic can be applied to each of the above myths.

Additionally, in cases where an abuser also has alcohol or drug problems, anger management issues, or a mental illness, studies show that when the other problem is treated, most of the time the abuse remains.

There are a few other myths about the causes of relationship abuse that should be addressed:

“The bad economy is causing more domestic violence.”

“He just flips out and loses control.”

“She must have done something to provoke or deserve it.”

None of these statements are valid.  Here is why:

  • It is true that worse economies correlate with slightly higher rates of domestic violence reports, but it is not fully clear why this is.  First of all, domestic violence and relationship abuse exist and are incredibly common even in amazing economic times.  Second, it may be that in worse economies victims have less access to resources besides the police and other reporting mechanisms, so they rely on these resources more, which makes reporting go up, but not necessarily rates of violence.
  • Abusers do not “lose control.”  They make specific, conscious choices to instill fear in their partner.
  • No matter what the victim does, the perpetrator always has other choices in a given situation.  Even if they are really angry or upset, they could choose to break up, leave the room, or discuss the issue rationally rather than assault, berate, threaten, intimidate, or otherwise abuse their partner.  No one chooses or deserves to be abused; abuse is the choice of the perpetrator.

Ultimately, the cause of relationship abuse is a perpetrator’s belief that it is their right to exert power and control over their partner.