Characteristics of Partner Violence

Domestic Violence and abuse can happen to anyone with no regard to size, gender, or even strength.  The abuser can be male or female and often times it is someone the victim knows personally or on an intimate level.  Domestic violence is often times overlooked, excused, or denied.  Victims will place blame on themselves and will do what they can to protect the perpetrator.  Emotional abuse is most often disregarded because it is unseen, but it can leave the deepest scars.  You do not have to live in fear.  Being aware of warning signs and potential characteristics of an abuser may help protect potential victims from entering a dangerous and violent relationship.  This paper will pinpoint four characteristics that have been identified as the most common in potential abusers.  Knowing what signs to look for in an intimate partner may just save your life.

You may wonder what a perpetrator may look like; they do not walk around with a sign that reads “abuser,” and most likely they will not tell you upfront in their introduction that they possess violent or controlling tendencies.  An intimate partner may use psychological, emotional, and physical abuse along with spurts of love, happiness, and respect; known as the “good times.”  An abuser can act out violently and within minutes feel shame and regret.  Speaking from my personal experience as a victim, my abuser would shame me with words and hit me.  The next day he would shower me with gifts; a diamond bracelet, dinner, flowers, or a new dress.  This creates confusion for the victim and generates submission.  The abuser wants to be in control and dominate the victim.  Seeking dominance in the relationship displays a lack of respect for the partner and can be set off by jealousy. (Gosselin, 2010 p.247) This jealousy sets a spiral effect of obsessive behaviors in which the aggressor keeps the partner under supervision with check in’s, the need to know where the partner is at all times and who they are spending their time with.  David Adams, author of “Why do they kill?  Men who murder their intimate partners,” found the obsession to dominate their partner led to very violent crimes, a murder of passion.  The jealous type is very common in domestic violence cases in which the man is the aggressor.  Throw in drugs or alcohol and a gun into the mix and we are looking at a very dangerous man.  Adams reported he found this to be the case in 40 percent of the men he interviewed.  (Auchter NIJ Journal, 2010)

Many abusers isolate their partner from family, friends, and coworkers.  Isolation occurs when the abuser is seeking attention and wants the partner all to them self.  The abuser will start out by inching their way into the victim’s life little by little, until they have gained complete control, in which the victim may not even be permitted to leave their home.  This isolation keeps the victim from personal connections that could ultimately be support and help when the abuse escalates.   Sharon Long lived with her boyfriend of 2 years.  She was not permitted to work nor could she visit family unless he was with her.  Teddy, her boyfriend made sure that she was never alone with anyone; to keep her from speaking up and reporting the abuse.  She was not allowed to have a cell phone and he set up surveillance cameras that were connected to his iPhone to watch her when he was at work.  Sharon stated that she no longer felt like a person, she had no emotions and no relationships with anyone.  “Teddy threatened to kill my family if I was to ever see them alone or suggest to them that he was abusing me.” (Long, 2014)

Abusers are also great manipulators.  They tend to confuse the victim by lashing out at them and then quickly apologizing in very sincere patterns that lead the victim to believe the apology.  In Daughters in Danger, Bennett shares the most common thread in the domestic violence cases she studied, was the abuser apologized and promised the abuse was going to stop; halting the victim from leaving or seeking help.  One of the cases that Bennett brings light is the Yeardley Love murder in North Carolina.  Yeardley Love was murdered by her alcoholic boyfriend.  He was very aggressive when he was drunk and became uncontrollable.  Love tried to leave Huguely on a number of occasions but when he sobered up, he would be regretful and promise to get help.  He was the star of the lacrosse team and went to all the parties on the college campus and every time he would get drunk and threaten Love.  Alcohol impaired him and brought out a very dark and violent side of him that ultimately pushed him to murder Yeardley Love.  (Bennett, 2013 p.24-26)

When an abuser is impaired by drugs or alcohol the level of danger for the victim increases.  By increasing the violent behavior from the abuser, the substances will also increase the severity of the injury for the victim.  It is not that matter of the substance making the aggressor violent, but that it changes the way the brain thinks and the emotions.  Alcohol and drugs impair the human mind and simply disinhibits normal functions.   “Probably the largest contributing factor to domestic violence is alcohol. All major theorists point to the excessive use of alcohol as a key element in the dynamics of wife beating. However, it is not clear whether a man is violent because he is drunk or whether he drinks to reduce his inhibitions against his violent behavior” (Labell, 1979 p. 264).

It is key to be aware when involved in an intimate relationship.  When we stay aware we are able to see our partner for who they truly are.  We do not need to wait for the mask to fall off and their true self be unveiled.  We must be on the lookout for jealous, manipulative, controlling, isolating partners and steer clear.  Knowledge is power and in cases of domestic violence knowledge is a matter of living.  Do not live with a blindfold on, cause it may cause you to live in a forever darkness.


Gosselin, D. (2010). Adult Perpetrators. In Heavy hands: An introduction to the crimes of family violence (4th ed., pp. 246-250). Boston: Prentice Hall.

Auchter, B. (2010). Men Who Murder Their Families: What the Research Tells Us. NIJ, 266.

This site is a .gov and a reputable source of information.

Structure: Long, S (2014, September 4). Personal Interview

Hamel, J. (2007). Label Family interventions in domestic violence a handbook of gender-inclusive theory and treatment (p. 264). New York: Springer Pub.

Bennett, E., & Meeker, M. (2013). In Loco Parentis. In Daughters in danger: Helping our girls thrive in today’s culture (pp. 24-26). Nashville: Nelson Books.

Domestic Violence and the Social Learning Theory

There are many theories that try to explain why men and women become violent in relationships.  Albert Bandura was a firm believer that behavior is caused by something deep in the brain and others believe that it is a controlled choice.  (University of South Alabama online, 2003) The theory that best explains domestic violence is the social learning theory.  The social learning theory suggests that violence is a learned behavior and can be triggered by stress, alcohol abuse, and money.  We learn behavior starting at an early age in life from our parents.  In fact our parents and guardians have the greatest impact on our behavior, attitude, and relationships.  The learned behavior carries with us into our adulthood.  “One hypothesized mode of intergenerational transmission is modeling. There is evidence that witnessing and/or experiencing violence are related to different patterns of abusive behavior.” (Murrell, Christoff, & Henning, 2007 pg. 523-532)

“Sociologists state that men batter because they learned violence in their families as children and that women seek out abusive men because they see their mothers being abused.” (McCue 2008)  I interviewed Sharon Mullen, who was abused in her home as a child.  She describes a home with lots of fighting.  Mullen states that her father was never violent, but his words were very demeaning and hurtful.   “I remember my father would call me stupid and would get very angry with me for spilling something or burning dinner.  My father verbally abused me and I learned that it was okay for men to speak to women in that manner.  As an adult I unknowingly sought out relationships in which my partner spoke down to me and with each relationship the abuse got more intense.  Overtime, I went from dating a man that verbally abused me to a more physically abusive relationship.” (Mullen, 2014)  Studies show this to be a pattern in women that witnessed some form of abuse as a child between her parents or was victimized as a child.  Children are very observant and even when you think they are not paying attention they are absorbing everything in.  Little eyes and little ears don’t miss much, soaking in sights and sounds. Children that witness violence and abuse are overwhelmed by intense feelings and replay consciously the turn of events.  (Cunningham and Baker online, 2007)  Children that see repeated behavior become numb to the violence and abuse and see it is as normal and accepted behavior.  When a man is abusive to a child’s mother, it’s more than bad role modeling. It’s bad parenting.   Let’s face it, as parents we act as role models.  We teach our children by word and action.

Children can be confused and not sure of what is right and what is wrong and will start to repeat the behavior they see.  Children that live in homes with repeat violence will act out by hitting, biting, and pushing friends, siblings, and classmates.  “Social learning theory suggests that a child learns not only how to commit violence but also learns positive attitudes about violence when he (or she) sees it rewarded (Dutton and Holtzworth-Munroe 1997; Kalmuss 1984).This suggests that children who have witnessed violence, or have been abused, learn destructive conflict resolution and communication patterns. Sternberg et al. (1997) suggest that Bandura’s social learning theory would predict that both observers and victims can be affected, with children from more violent environments being more likely to acquire aggressive modes of behavior.” (Murrell, Christoff, and Henning, 2007) The violent behavior will then escalate into personal relationships as they get older.  Think about the concept of the social learning theory; humans learn from observation from the people and environment around them.  When children witness violent behavior in the home they are learning more than it’s acceptable.  Violent relationships in the home teach children the following ideas:

  • violence and threats get you what you want; a person has two choices – to be the aggressor or be the victim;
  • victims are to blame for violence;
  • when people hurt others, they do not get in trouble;
  • women are weak, helpless, incompetent, stupid, or violent; anger causes violence or drinking causes violence;
  • people who love you can also hurt you;
  • unhealthy, unequal relationships are normal or to be expected;
  • men are in charge and get to control women’s lives; women don’t have the right to be treated with respect (Cunnigham and Baker, 2007)

By the time children reach adolescences they have this warped idea of how a relationship should be.   They have trouble with problem solving and are not able to reach a healthy solution to normal, every day challenges.  Media also plays a negative role by desensitizing our youth with violent video games and movies that reflect domestic abuse and men overpowering females.  Socially our youth struggle with emotions and become  very confused, especially if they do not have a positive, healthy, and stable home environment.  In fact teenage girls may have difficulty establishing healthy relationships; may fear being abused or being abusive in intimate relationships, especially when conflict arises; may avoid intimacy or prematurely seek intimacy and child bearing to escape and create own support system.  (Cunnigham and Baker online, 2007)

Through extensive research it has been discovered that men that have witness’s accounts of abuse and battering as a child are nine times more likely to play the role of the abuser in intimate relationships.  In cases of verbal violence, men who report observing domestic violence were also more likely to verbally abuse and threaten their partners. Further, the more physical the abuse, the more likely these men were to report committing verbal and physical violence to their intimate partners.  (Wareham, Boots, and Chavez, 2009)

It is evident that we learn by observing.  When we witness attacks of domestic violence become an every day event; we become numb to the real issue.  The violence becomes a normal event and a way of dealing with personal issues.  The social learning theory is undoubtedly the best way to explain the transfer of violent behavior generation to generation.   “A child who lives with violence is

forever changed, but not forever “damaged.” There’s a lot we can do to make tomorrow better.”  (Cunningham and Baker online, 2007)


McCue, M. (2008). Domestic violence: A reference handbook (Revised/Expanded ed.). Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.

Murrell, A., Christoff, K., & Henning, K. (2007). Characteristics Of Domestic Violence Offenders: Associations With Childhood Exposure To Violence. Journal of Family Violence, 523-532.

Wareham, J., Boots, D., & Chavez, J. (2009, May 13). Social Learning Theory and Intimate Violence Among Men Participating in a Family Violence Intervention Program. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from

University, P. (2013, February 11).  – The Future of Children -. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from§ionid=1495

Structure: Mullen, Sharon   (2014, August 12). Personal interview.

Barrett, E. (2003, January 1). Social Learning Theory. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from