How To Identify The Causes Of Domestic Violence

Updated January 25, 2023by ReGain Editorial Team

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence, which could potentially be triggering.

Some of the world's best minds have addressed domestic or dating violence, yet somehow it continues, yet somehow it continues. Research on the intimate partner abuse stats shows that one in three women in the U.S. experiences intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetime. For men, the number is only slightly less at one in four. The first step in curing this urgent problem is finding out the causes of domestic violence.

Who's Responsible For Domestic Violence?

It's very easy to point fingers when you're trying to identify spouse abuse. Laying the blame on a person or people is very tempting because it relieves us of feeling responsible. Can anyone be held responsible for this widespread problem? Most commonly, the blame is assigned to the individual experiencing domestic violence, the society, or the abuser.

Why Blaming Doesn't Make Sense

Abusers love to blame the individual they are abusing for doing things that they say give them no other choice than to become violent. If you talk to someone who has been violent with an intimate partner or someone who wants to excuse them, you might hear the following:

  • "If she would stop nagging me, I wouldn't hit her."
  • "If he would stop making me angry, I wouldn't lash out."
  • "When she irritates me so much, I can't help but lose it."
  • "His childishness is just too hard to bear."
  • "It's just as much their fault as mine. They're no better at relationships than I am."
  • "When she defies me, I can't control my anger."

Individuals experiencing domestic violence can blame themselves, too. People who are abused often add to the list of excuses for violent behavior, taking the blame for themselves with words like:

  • "They wouldn't be so stressed if I helped them more."
  • "They only hurt me because I'm such a burden."
  • "I always say the wrong things that are sure to set them off."
  • "If I knew how to calm them, they wouldn't lose control."
  • "I can't expect them to treat me better when I keep pushing their buttons."

All this blaming leads nowhere, though. No matter what they do, the individual experiencing domestic violence doesn't force the abuser to act in violent ways. They can't stop their abuser from hurting them by changing their behavior. The bottom line is that the individual experiencing domestic violence is never responsible. This is where the benefits of domestic violence counseling come in, because in counseling they will come to understand that they are truly not to blame.

Is Society To Blame?

Certain conditions and beliefs perpetuated by society can create attitudes that excuse domestic violence. Does this mean that society is to blame, though? The effects of societal norms can't be discounted entirely. Yet, domestic violence is not committed by society as a whole.

Can The Abuser Help It?

Although there may be many underlying causes, only one person is responsible for domestic violence: the person who abuses their intimate partner. Violence doesn't just happen. It's a choice. It's a decision to take control of someone else by physically abusing them.

It isn't easy to accept responsibility if you believe you can't help yourself. Yet, you can make a different choice than to hit, kick, punch, or otherwise hurt your partner. The first thing to do is make a different decision. After that, you can focus on learning more about domestic violence's underlying causes to make that decision perhaps a little easier later on.

Why Do Abusers Choose Violence?

You may wonder, "If violence is a decision, why would anyone choose it?" Even if you have been violent with a partner, you may not understand why you didn't respond differently. For you, understanding the causes can help you recognize the issues you need to deal with to become less violent overall.

If you're experiencing domestic violence, the goal of understanding why the abuser makes this choice isn't to feel sorry for them or accept what they do to you. However, knowing the underlying causes of violence can help you accept that you have no control over someone else's behavior and may need to leave the relationship.

Genetic And Physiological Factors

Preliminary research has shown that there may be a weak genetic influence in violent behavior. Parents who commit violent acts seem to pass on violent tendencies to their children. Still, a violent tendency doesn't lead directly to violence. It's still a choice whether to act on the resulting thoughts and feelings or not.

Biological factors include hormonal and neurotransmitter influences and certain brain functions that make violent behavior more likely. Excess testosterone or taking steroids can increase violence. Changes in dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid can make people more prone to committing violence. The anatomy of the brain can also contribute to violence.

Yet, it isn't easy for an individual to find out what's happening genetically and physiologically to increase their partner's violent tendencies. These factors are interesting, but at this point, they rarely provide a solution to domestic violence.

What Part Do The Abuser's Parents Play?

In addition to passing on their genes, parents of abusers may influence their children's violent behavior by teaching them that it's okay to harm a romantic partner. They teach these attitudes through their words to a certain extent, but the deepest learning comes when the children observe both abuse and acceptance of abuse. However, not all children whose parents are in a violent domestic relationship abuse their partners.

What about Childhood Trauma?

Unresolved childhood trauma might also increase the likelihood of being an abuser. This link isn't strong or reliable for predicting violent behavior.

Is Depression A Valid Excuse?

For men, depression is more likely to cause symptoms like anger and aggression, substance abuse, and risk-taking. Because of this, men who are depressed are more likely to become violent than women. Does this mean that it's okay to be violent when you're depressed? Definitely not!

Is The Abuser Potentially Struggling With An Addiction?

Physical abuse happens more often when a violent partner is addicted to drugs or alcohol. According to the World Health Organization, one way to prevent domestic violence is to eliminate problem drinking. This certainly can affect, but the violent partner must be willing to deal with their addiction for it to happen.

Is Violence A Result Of Too Much Stress?

The stress of poverty, as mentioned above, does contribute to incidents of domestic violence. Other types of stress, including career stress, can increase conflict in a relationship. There are other ways to deal with these conflicts besides physical violence.

What Effect Does Poverty Have?

Poverty is a contributing factor to domestic violence. Despite the romantic notion that two people can live on love alone, poverty places enormous pressure on a relationship. Conflicts are nearly unavoidable as the two people in the relationship try to manage survival-level finances. Women in poverty usually have to work and often take on gender roles that men are accustomed to having for themselves.

A couple in poverty has few resources to help them deal with the incredible stress they're under. If the two partners don't have healthy relationship skills, they tend to use violence as a strategy for handling all this conflict. However, even poverty doesn't give a valid reason for physical violence against a partner.

Where Do Healthy Relationship Skills Fit In?

Despite all the above factors in domestic violence, it isn't going to happen if the relationship is built on healthy relationship skills. Healthy communication skills, problem-solving skills, and conflict resolution skills allow partners to find solutions for these causes other than hurting each other physically or emotionally.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Stop the Abuse?

Whether you're experiencing domestic violence or being the abuser, domestic violence can only make your life worse. So, what can you do about it?

What The Individual Experiencing Domestic Violence Can Do

The main thing an individual experiencing domestic violence needs to do is themselves and their children if they have any. When recognizing that the contributing factors are present can lead you to get out or get help, they're important to consider. Knowing the causes can also help you make better decisions about who to let into your life later on.

How Society Needs To Change

Would domestic violence go away if societal norms were different? Probably not; however, the acceptance of violence towards women does play a part in whether violent tendencies become violent actions.

If society changed in the following ways, there might be a reduction in domestic violence:

  • Male domination of women becomes unacceptable.
  • Violence is punished more strictly in courts.
  • Help is more easily available to individuals experiencing or those that have experienced domestic violence.
  • Men are encouraged to deal with mental health issues in nonviolent ways.
  • Violent partners are not allowed to possess firearms.
  • Everyone stops excusing violent behavior.

Whether you are abused, an abuser, or a bystander, you can do your part to change cultural attitudes toward partner battering. You can get involved in the political arena as a citizen or a leader. You can contribute your time and resources to making help available. Even if you change the way you think and talk about domestic violence, you can help create societal change.

What the Abuser Must Do

The ultimate cause of domestic violence comes down to the choice of the abuser. So, anyone who even considers hurting their partner absolutely must make a different choice if domestic violence is to stop. By getting to know yourself better, learning new skills, and understanding how all the above factors can contribute to your tendency to be violent, you can decrease your susceptibility to becoming violent.

The decision to stop violence before it happens is the priority. Also, you can do the following:

  • Learn to deal with stress in healthier ways.
  • Change the way you think about intimate partnerships.
  • Work towards an equal relationship.
  • Stop making excuses for yourself and others.
  • Accept responsibility for your own
  • Go to domestic violence classes voluntarily.
  • Address past traumas and violent patterns that came from your family of origin.
  • Avoid alcohol and drug abuse or get help overcoming your addictions.
  • See your primary care doctor to find out if your hormones are in balance.
  • Seek help for depression and other mental health issues.

Can I Do It Alone?

Domestic violence is extremely difficult to stop on your own. Nearly everyone needs help to change thoughts and behaviors and manage feelings that contribute to violent behavior. There are many different types of help available, but you must get help if you want to stop abusing. If you want to know more about domestic violence and get a deeper understanding about it, domestic violence classes are also encouraged.

There may be help for domestic violence in your community. Another option is to talk to a licensed counselor at for help with both the factors that contribute to violent behavior and changing the behavior itself. Online therapy is convenient, , and affordable. No matter which option you choose, sincerely seeking help to move beyond violent behavior can change your life for the better!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the 5 causes of violence?

Many individual factors may cause an individual to be predisposed to violence, but some common ones might include:

  • Growing up with abusive parents, parents with substance abuse issues, or an environment where domestic violence was accepted and normalized.
  • Having a hard time controlling or expressing emotions, having low self-worth. This may also stem back to undiagnosed mental health problems, like a personality disorder.
  • Having a history of violent acts or other criminal activity
  • Living in an unstable community (high rates of crime, high rates of poverty, etc.)
  • to weapons

Sometimes, violent acts are caused by an interaction with someone else - a single moment in time. Other times, they can be indicative of a very real, serious behavioral tendency. Even when violence happens in the heat of a moment, it has usually been building up for a long time. Hatred can grow slowly, burn for a long time; then, if it’s never dealt with healthily, it can burst forward in a moment of violent rage. 

Violence can take many forms, as can abuse warning signs. Physical or sexual abuse is a common type of violence, but violence can also involve indirect actions, like stalking or harassing. In times where domestic abuse was accepted, so too were the sometimes severe consequences.

Research suggests that when it comes to abuse, intimate partner violence is among the most common. It’s important to pay attention to abuse warning signs both in your own relationship and in others. Like mental abuse or sexual abuse, some types of abuse may be harder to identify, and sometimes outside intervention is necessary to help the recipient remove themselves from the situation.

If you’re dealing with sexual abuse, physical abuse, or another form of domestic abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great tool to use for immediate advice and resources. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

What are the causes of intimate partner violence?

The causes of intimate partner violence are far too numerous to condense into a single sentence. Domestic abuse is a complex and multifaceted issue, which is part of why it’s so hard to combat. However, here are some of the most commonly cited problems according to research:

  • The abuser has an undiagnosed or untreated mental health problem, like an anger or personality disorder. This leads the abuser to be unable to control serious emotions. 
  • The abuser was culturally trained to believe that he or she is superior to the partner and their role is to control their partner. This is common, for example, in patriarchal cultures that believe men are superior to women.
  • The abuser has serious problems with self-esteem and jealousy.
  • The abuser was raised in a household in which intimate partner violence was normalized.

While some risk factors might make an individual more likely to become violent (growing up in a violent environment or one where domestic violence was accepted, for instance, may lead an individual to believe violence is a reasonable response), an abusive individual chooses to be abusive and to make decisions that harm others.

Some instances of violence are caused by interaction or specific altercation, but frequent or chronic relationship abuse doesn’t always have a real cause. Being aware of relationship abuse warning signs is crucial to avoiding them and supporting others who may be dealing with them.

In discussions of abuse, intimate partner violence is often a pressing issue. Research shows that relationship abuse is very common across the world - in the U.S. alone, it affects millions of people every year. Domestic violence support is more important now than ever. To domestic violence support, though, one must first be aware that it exists and know how to find it.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) is one example of a resource you might utilize if you experience or witness domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is free and can offer various circumstances, including physical and sexual abuse, mental abuse, and others.

A great time to be an ally for domestic violence victims is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In the U.S., October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. National Domestic Violence Awareness Month seeks to support and empower those who have dealt with domestic violence and provide guidance for what to do if you witness domestic violence.

What are the 6 risk factors for violence?

Here are 6 risk factors that may make an individual more likely to perpetrate or experience violence:

  • Individual risk factors: this can include substance abuse, a personal history of assault or abuse, high emotional distress or a hard time controlling emotions, etc.
  • Family risk factors: parental substance abuse, low parental involvement or investment, low socioeconomic status, etc.
  • Social risk factors: involvement with violent individuals or gangs, unstable communities, etc.
  • Community risk factors: fewer economic opportunities, high levels of poor residents, etc.
  • Personal relations with a violent or unstable individual, like a spouse or parent
  • Involvement in illegal activities

Like living in an environment where others believe violence is a reasonable reaction, some risk factors are out of our control. Others can be managed, and being aware of abuse warning signs makes you better equipped to react to them in the future.

Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and other forms of abuse are never the individual's fault on the receiving end. If you’re experiencing physical or sexual abuse or another type of abuse, there are many ways to receive domestic violence support. The same is true if you witness domestic violence. 

Who is at risk of violence?

Many factors may make you more likely to experience domestic abuse, physical or sexual abuse, or another type of violence. 

Individual factors can sometimes play a part. Individual factors might include substance abuse, a history of being in abusive relationships, living in an environment where violence is a reasonable emotional response or one where domestic violence was accepted, and others.

Social and community factors can also play a role. Living in an area with high levels of violent activity, for instance, might make you more likely to encounter it yourself. You might also be more likely to witness domestic violence in these sorts of situations.

Relationship factors - if you’re dating, who you’re dating, etc. - are also relevant, especially in relationship abuse cases. Unfortunately, in discussions of abuse, intimate partner violence is very relevant; relationship abuse makes up a decent percentage of all violent crimes.

An interaction may cause some violent acts, but they don’t have to be. Sometimes violence that isn’t clearly caused by interaction or a specific moment can be the hardest to understand and make peace with.

If you’re experiencing or witnessing abuse warning signs, it’s important to seek out help. Domestic violence support options are more numerous today than ever, and many are only a few clicks away.

A great tool for those in the U.S. is the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE). The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers free, support to those who need it. 

If you’re not looking to utilize something like the National Domestic Violence Hotline or are just looking to be a good ally, causes like National Domestic Violence Awareness Month is great ones to align yourself with.

How does domestic violence affect you physically?

Depending on the type of domestic abuse (mental, physical, etc.), physical consequences might include:

  • Injuries - bruises, cuts, etc.
  • Digestive problems
  • Migraines
  • Hypertension
  • Substance abuse (and its physical results)

If you’re dealing with relationship abuse or domestic abuse, physical or sexual abuse, or another form of violence, you don’t deserve to deal with it alone. In terms of abuse, intimate partner violence is devastatingly common, according to research. Your abuser may try and convince you that violence is a reasonable reaction or “punishment,” but it never is. 

There are many domestic violence support options available to you, some of which you can immediately. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is one such resource. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides to guidance, resources, and other important material for those who need it. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached in the U.S. at 1-800-799-SAFE.

Intimate partner violence deserves to be taken seriously right away - the consequences of intimate partner violence can be severe for your mental and physical health. Take advantage of opportunities to advocate for yourself and empower yourself whenever you can (like National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, among others).

What are the possible consequences of intimate partner violence?

What does intimate partner violence mean?

How do you identify intimate partner violence?

What are the warning signs of violence?

What is the most common form of intimate partner violence?

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