Family Violence

My views on Family Violence

My experience has shown in relationships where violence becomes a factor, quite often both men and women contribute to the escalation of conflict to the point of physical aggression.

There is very good international research supporting that this applies to many couples, even newlyweds or people just starting out in their relationships.

Research conducted by psychology professor Kim Halford and colleagues from the university of Queensland in 2010-11 focused on couples at the start of their relationships and couples expecting a child together.

Even with these early relationships, about a quarter of the women admit they have been violent towards their partners — just as many as the men.

I strongly believe our society must take every possible step to safeguard women and their children who are threatened by violent men in their homes and applaud the measures being taken to ensure their protection in these circumstances.

But my own counselling experience and abundant international evidence shows this is only a small part of the problem of family violence.

In my counselling practice I work hard to give both sides a fair hearing (which sadly doesn’t always happen in couples counselling) and encourage both men and women to take active responsibility for making their relationship work.

Couples can learn to deal with problems in their relationships without using violence, but that won’t happen unless we are honest about when this is a two-way street and not just a dangerous man terrorizing his family.

If we are to break the cycle of children learning to be violent through watching their parents, we need to acknowledge there are plenty of children cowering from their mothers, not just their fathers.

What I’ve learned from the experts and experience

I remember a personal conversation with John Gottman Ph.D. (author of The Seven Principals to Making Marriage Work and The Science of Trust), who spelled out to me the difference between ‘situational domestic violence’ – where both partners contribute to the escalating conflict (which he says applies to nine out of ten cases), versus the other 10% of cases which he called ‘characterological domestic violence’, where one partner, generally the male, instigates and perpetrates violence to maintain dominance over his female partner.

Professor Gottman’s data paints a very different picture to the gender-based models where the male partner is assumed to be the perpetrator.

My work has also been heavily influenced by Dr. David Schnarch (author of Passionate Marriage and Intimacy and Desire). Attending his intensive professional trainings for years has taught me that both men and women in long-term relationships act out in destructive ways which erodes their personal intimate bond, negatively impacting their children’s emotional health. He has developed specific interventions to address both female and male conflict behaviours – strategies I have found to be most effective with couples exhibiting high levels of discord.


Dr. Tonia Nicholls – The uncomfortable facts on IPV (Intimate Partner Violence)