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2009 Toni McLean
Frequently Asked Questions
What is normal
relationship conflict, both partners usually feel they are able to say “no” to the other
partner without feeling controlled or even threatened in some way. Partners are not usually actively working to undermine or control
the other. Both
partners feel they can hold their ground and, overall, they have equal say in
relationship decisions. Neither partner will choose to use physical aggression or other behaviours to get their own way.
It does sometime happen, though, that arguments may mutually escalate
to the point where one or both partners moves to the level of using
some kind of physical aggression towards the other.
The difference is in the motivation that drives the use of physical or otherwise behaviour.
What is abusive
behaviour in a relationship?
persistent, repetitive behaviour which serves to make one partner feel
disrespected or threatened,
in their relationship, or which physically hurts a partner
controlling behaviour which serves to keep the other partner compliant and
powerless in the
It comes in a variety of forms: verbal, emotional,
psychological, financial, social, spiritual, physical, and sexual …more
How is it different
from “normal” relationship conflict?
normal relationship conflict, neither partner feels too scared to hold
their ground in a disagreement. This may also include where it becomes
physical, but of course physical aggression causes other problems in
relationship conflict which is controlling or abusive, one partner is unable to say no to
the other, and they feel as though they do not have equal space or value in the
relationship. Controlling or abusive relationships often have a cycle of
controlling or abusive behaviour which escalates over time, and it may reach the
point of being dangerous.
intervention in the form of the services offered by “Think Twice!” can short circuit this cycle and set the relationship
on a different path.
Are all abusive relationships the same?
some conflictual relationships abuse or violence occurs as a result of angry
conflict in which one or both partners does not have sufficient impulse or
behavioural control to stop themselves from being violent. It may also be
directly linked to particular situations. This is called “expressive” or
conflictual relationships violence, or the threat of violence, is used to gain
and maintain pervasive control over the other partner.
This is referred to as “instrumental” violence, which is used for the purpose
of controlling most aspects of the other partner’s life.
In assessing an intimate relationship
with regard to violence or abuse, it is important to clarify if there is any significant imbalance in the “power
and control” dynamics in the relationship in order to distinguish between
“situational” or “expressive” violence or abuse, which is not intended to control the other partner, and ‘instrumental’
violence or abuse, which is used to
control the other partner. In the latter situation, there may actually be
little or no current physical violence.
What is the impact of abusive conflict on families?
on families can be enormous. Regardless of the nature of abusive conflict, the non-abusing
partner may suffer various physical, emotional or psychological illnesses, and
even death in extreme situations. Seventy or more people die each year in New South Wales alone as
a result of relationship violence. About 80% of the victims are women. Most
murders are not premeditated, but are preceded by a gradually escalating cycle
of violence, which did not necessarily begin with physical violence.
who have witnessed abuse or violence at home may exhibit a range of symptoms
including symptoms consistent with or associated with post-traumatic stress, eg
anxiety, depression, bedwetting, nightmares, flashbacks, violent outbursts,
poor sleep, poor appetite, inability to concentrate. Some of these children go
on to abuse alcohol or other drugs or to be in abusive relationships as adults,
either as victims or as abusers.
What services do we offer to help people in high conflict
or abusive relationships?
Twice” offers a structured program for people who are or have been in relationships with any form of violence, with elements selected as
appropriate from the following:
» individual counselling for both men and
women who are abusing in their relationships
» more traditional couple counselling,
where appropriate, with attention paid to the dynamics which
» a structured couple program, where
appropriate, after careful assessment of the nature of the violence
» a group program for men who are abusing
in their relationships
» a group program for women who are
abusing in their relationships
counselling where indicated, to address past trauma or associated current
such as anxiety, depression or self-harming.
Are women abusive too?
There certainly are relationships where women have
controlling or abusive ways of behaving, and also relationships where these
behaviours are mutual. There is much debate about the relative percentages
men and women who are violent in relationships, but there is definitely significant evidence of the following:
» that both men and women use abuse in their relationships, and often it is mutual
» as many as one in three partner violence victims are men
» that men can be as seriously injured by female partners as women are by male partners, though they may be fewer in number
more women are killed by their partners or ex-partners than men, but
men are still a significant minority of partner murder victims
men are just as likely as women to suffer in a variety of ways from
partner abuse, with some similarities and some differences
» that children suffer similar negative effects from violence between their parents, regardless of which
parent is the abusive one.
So why have separate
groups for men and women?
are separate because the causes, contributing factors and relationship dynamics
are usually very different between women and men who are abusing in their
relationships. This means that mixed groups are not as relevant or effective
for all participants as separate groups for men and women.
I’ve heard that some professionals believe
couples counselling is not appropriate for relationships where there is
violence. Why do you offer this?
Traditionally in this area the only response to violence in
relationships was to offer support, counselling and groups for victims and
group programs for those who were abusing. Victim services were directed
towards women and abuser programs were directed towards men.
all violence is due to one partner wanting to
dominate and control the other, as has been traditionally believed. In
fact, this most probably only applies in a small number of
relationships. Generally, most relationships with high level conflict
show expressive or situational conflict rather than attempts to control
or dominate. The
integrated approach offered by “Think
Twice!” recognises and accommodates this broader perspective. In addition,
working only with the offending person does not recognise any entrenched
behaviour by the other partner which is also having a negative effect on the relationship
dynamics. While this behaviour is not considered to be a legitimate cause for
violence, it is in the interest of both partners to address any behaviours that
are not conducive to having a strong, supportive, respectful relationship.
Working with both partners, frequently in different ways, also helps to
integrate the work done with the offending person into the relationship.
Careful structuring of individual and couple sessions facilitates the best possible outcome for the couple.
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