Do You Experience Physical Aggression In Your Relationship?

Physical aggression can be frightening and upsetting. Unfortunately, low level violence like pushing, shoving, and grabbing are common – 1/6 of all couples and 1/2 of couples who go to therapy report these kind of behaviors. Even when low level violence does not leave physical injuries, it can injure individuals emotionally. Low level violence can accidentally be dangerous (e.g., a shove leads that to a dangerous fall). Research shows that even low level violence has a negative effect on a relationship’s long-term satisfaction and results in higher rates of divorce/separation. Make sure you and your partner stay safe by committing yourself to nonviolence.  

Below are common cycles couples experience around physical aggression and tips for breaking out of these cycles. Because every couple is different, it’s important to read through each cycle. You might find that more than one applies to you or your partner’s behavior.  

Additionally, physical aggression that results in fear or physical injurt (e.g., cuts, bruises, etc.) is UNACCEPTABLE and these tips may not be appropriate for high level violence. If this is the case for your relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (or seek help online at www.thehotline.org).

Cycle 1: ONLY ONE OF US HAS GOTTEN PHYSICAL

If only one partner gets physical, create a plan that keeps both partners safe in the relationship.

Cycle 2: WE BOTH HAVE GOTTEN PHYSICAL

If both partners get physical, instead of trying to figure out who started it, both partners should change their reactions. 

 

Cycle 1: ONLY ONE OF US HAS GOTTEN PHYSICAL

Tips for the partner who has gotten physical

I’m so angry.

The harder it is to express your anger, the harder it may be to stop yourself from responding physically by pushing, shoving, or grabbing your partner.

  1. Take a Time Out.  Think about what usually leads up to you getting angry and losing control. Can you notice those things and take a “time out” before it gets worse? Try taking a walk to calm down during the “time out” and think about a better way to express your frustration or upset.
  2. Focus on breathing. When you feel yourself getting angry, practice focusing on your breathing and letting the anger wash over you without reacting. Then, tell your partner how angry you feel.
  3. Think of other ways of communicating.  After you’ve calmed down, think of ways that you might be able to talk with your partner about the topic without getting physical.  Would writing your partner a note help?  Or having the conversation over the phone?

Tips for the partner who did not get physical

I don’t like how you get angry.

The more you try to prevent your partner from doing something physical to you or near you, the more you may hold back your real feelings and not really be yourself in the relationship.

  1. Practice your communication. Before a conversation that might make you or your partner angry, practice HOW you want to start that conversation.
  2. Take a Time Out. Stop the conversation with a “time out” if you think a fight might escalate to a point you’ll both regret.
  3. Make a Safety Plan. If you’re worried you might be in danger, make a safety plan for removing yourself from the situation in the short-term or long-term. This might mean taking a walk or spending the night with a friend/family member while your partner calms down.  You can find out more information here: http://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/

 

Cycle 2: WE BOTH HAVE GOTTEN PHYSICAL

Tips for the two physical partners

We’re so angry

You may get so angry that you lash out at your partner in a physical way, leading to pushing, shoving, and grabbing.  

  1. Take a Time Out.  Think about what usually leads up to you getting angry and losing control. Can you notice those things and take a “time out” before it gets worse?
  2. Focus on breathing. When you feel yourself getting angry, practice focusing on your breathing and letting the anger wash over you without reacting. Then, tell your partner how angry you feel. 
  3. Walk away.  If your partner does something physical to you, walk away from the situation until you are both calm enough to talk again. 
  4. Make a Safety Plan. If you’re worried you might be in danger, make a safety plan for removing yourself from the situation in the short-term or long-term. This might mean taking a walk or spending the night with a friend/family member while your partner calms down.  You can find out more information here: http://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/

 

Extra Resources

Here are a few more resources to help you break the cycle you and your partner are struggling with:

Stopping physical aggression in your relationship can be a very difficult thing to do, especially if it’s been going on for a while.

Therefore, if this is a central issue in your relationship, we suggest you do the following:

  1. Decide if the aggression in your relationship is abusive and, if so, what to do. We recommend you read the following resources:
    – What is abuse? http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/
    – If you are the victim of abuse: http://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/
    – If you are the aggressive one: http://www.thehotline.org/help/for-abusive-partners/ and http://www.hotline.org/2014/07/intervention-programs-for-abusive-behavior/
    – This is why we don’t recommend couples counseling for abusive relationships: http://www.thehotline.org/2014/08/why-we-dont-recommend-couples-counseling-for-abusive-relationships/
  2. If the physical aggression in your relationship is NOT abuse, we recommend the following book. It offers a lot of excellent advice that we don’t cover in this program. “The High Conflict Couple” by Alan Fruzzetti http://www.amazon.com/The-High-Conflict-Couple-Dialectical-Validation/dp/157224450X.
  3. Complete a Free, Online Self-Help Program.  Consider working on your relationship using our proven, self-help relationship program. Our program is developed by leaders in the fields of couple therapy and pre-marital education and has been shown through extensive research to improve relationships – more than in-person classes and almost as much as marriage counseling. You’ll work with your partner to complete online activities and receive free support from one of our program coaches. Our program is developed by leaders in the fields of couple therapy and pre-marital education. So, you can be confident that it’s the best thing you can do to strengthen your relationship without the hassle and cost of a therapist. Not sure your partner would go for it?  Take a look at these tips for how to introduce the idea. To find out more about our program, go to our home page.
  4. Because physical aggression can often be a difficult problem to solve, you may feel that you would benefit more from working directly with a therapist. If so, use the following link to find a therapist in your area: https://www.ourrelationship.com/home-page/referrals/therapy-resources.