Understanding intimate partner violence

Intimate partner violence often results from abusive relationships – such that the initial love and romance gives way to terror, controlling behaviour and the use of violence as a means of exerting influence.

It is a very common problem, with estimates indicating that one out of every three women had experienced an abusive relationship at some point; and a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds. Men can also be on the receiving end of abusive relationships – even though the vast majority is usually with males as perpetrators.

Our culture of shaming and blaming the victims as well as the subtle societal tolerance for these actions have unfortunately resulted in the ultimate tragedy – death, in some instances.

But why do people behave this way? And why is it so difficult to break off such relationships or marriages – before things degenerate into murder or grievous bodily harm? We will attempt to proffer some explanations.

It is helpful to bear in mind, that all of us as human beings are the product of our inherited genes from our parents as well as a product of our experiences growing up – home environment, school environment, religious influence, type of friends or neighbourhood we grew up in. They all play a role in shaping our personality and thinking.

Thus, it is often said that ‘the child is father to the man’. In the process of our growing up years and our socialising development, we all end up having our positives (strengths) and our negatives (flaws). There is no perfect human being.

Thus, in a way, we are all damaged goods. The wise man or woman is the one who is aware of his/her flaws and makes a conscious attempt to correct or compensate for them.

Why would anyone be a perpetrator?

Some risk factors increase the chances of individuals becoming perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV). These include:

  • Growing up in a home where such practices were the norm, or violence was routinely used to settle quarrels. Such a child grows up with the mindset that it is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts.
  • Poor upbringing: Growing up in homes where they are indulged and pampered and taught that the male child is superior and more valuable than females. And where gender roles perpetuate the impression that household work is beneath a man.
  • Low self-esteem: Some individuals suffer from low self-esteem and their dislike for anyone challenging their opinion/views stem from their fragile egos. They may also attempt to use controlling behaviour and exert power over someone else as a way of making themselves feel good.
  • Poor communication skills: People who are unable to clearly express themselves or their wishes using verbal communication may turn to violence as a means of shutting up a rival (or the spouse) when there is a disagreement. This is possibly why some people offer the lame excuse of a wife’s oratorial superiority as the basis for their resorting to violence.
  • Low frustration threshhold: Individuals who become frustrated easily and are unable to handle difficult situations will resort to violence.
  • Anger management problems: Persons who do not understand their anger and/or how to handle situations when they become angry may instinctively lash out with violence when they are angry. They then become remorseful afterwards. This is a lack of self-discipline/control.
  • Thinking errors: Some people have thinking (cognitive) errors where they routinely misunderstand and mis-read other people’s intentions and actions (or inactions). More often than not, the mis-interpretation is in a negative manner and results in punitive actions or retaliation for real or perceived offences.
  • Use of alcohol and other drugs: Persons who drink alcohol and take drugs are more likely to misbehave when under the influence of these drugs.

Why do people remain in abusive relationships?

There are many reasons why working away from abusive relationship is difficult :

  • It is extremely difficult to break off long-standing emotional ties and relationships. It requires courage and social support/encouragement from family and friends.
  • Societal shame and culture of discrimination against divorcees, and viewing them as ‘failures’.
  • The religious and cultural encouragement to ‘forgive’ and ‘endure’ or ‘pray for victory’ when things deteriorate.
  • Poor understanding and acceptance of the place of psychological therapy in helping people with anger management and IPV. This is not a magic bullet, but it works if the individual is willing and committed. Recall that we are all, in one way or the other, ‘damaged goods’? But at the same time, we all have immense potential for so much good, if motivated and harnessed appropriately.



IPV should never be tolerated and there is absolutely no excuse for it. It can lead to fatal consequences, even when unintended. And everyone involved is ultimately a loser – the individuals involved, their children (if they have any), and the respective families.

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