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Predicting relationship violence

October 29th, 2005

Dr Petra

I was interested to hear about some new research published in the journal of Personal Relationships. Through a series of studies the research by Todd Shackelford at Florida Atlantic university researchers discovered three main predictors of partner violence.

The main one to be aware of is ‘vigilance over a partner’s whereabouts’. Simply put this involves behaviour that includes putting a partner under surveillance, phoning or visiting in person to see where they are, or needing to know where they are at all times. It isn’t the occasional check to see if your partner is running late or is safe, but is about an abusive partner demanding to know where you are all the time.

The second warning sign is emotional manipulation – where a partner would threaten their death or suicide if you left them.

The third sign was taking up a lot of a partner’s time and/or threatening to punish any real or suspected infidelity.

I’m sure most of these behaviours won’t come as any surprise to survivors of domestic violence or those who offer support or counselling services to survivors.

What’s interesting about this research is people could clearly identify clear strategies that predict subsequent violent behaviour.

This is useful since it can be applied in two ways. It can be taught within life skills or relationships education classes so people can be made aware of behaviours that could become problematic and therefore respond to them before they worsen. Secondly those who feel the need to check up on or control their partner could also be made aware of this problem behaviour and be offered support or education so they can address the root cause of those feelings and hopefully prevent problem behaviour before it begins.

It may not always be easy to spot such behaviours when they start, particularly if you’ve got low self-esteem or a lack of confidence. Vigilance – the checking up on you, may be initially seen as someone who’s keen on you or cares about you (indeed a potentially abusive partner may convince you and them that this is true).

A partner who always needs to know where you are, restricts your movements and who you can see, and demands proof of your whereabouts is not acting out of love for you, but out of a need to control. You cannot fix this nor should you pander to them because you want to reassure them. Over time their behaviour will worsen no matter what steps you take to try and show you’re trustworthy.

Perhaps people can use these predictors to notice a potentially problem partner and urge them to get support or help, rather than putting up with a situation that could deteriorate into a situation that proves fatal.

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