How To Identify The Causes Of Domestic Violence

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated May 9, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Karen Devlin, LPC

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 violence, yet somehow it continues. Research 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. 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.

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 protect 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.

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, private, and affordable. No matter which option you choose, sincerely seeking help to move beyond violent behavior can change your life for the better!

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