By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

When you think of domestic violence, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you immediately conjure up an image of a couple engaged in an angry, violent exchange. This couple could be two men, two women, a ­husband and wife, partners, or cohabitants. What makes it domestic violence is that they live together in some sort of committed relationship.

These relationships are the most difficult ones in which to manage anger because you can’t walk away from them (at least not easily) and because you probably have a different standard for what is acceptable behavior for loved ones versus strangers (in other words, you’ll tolerate more from your loved ones than you will from strangers).

For example, if a stranger comes up to you and slaps you across the face, you’d probably call the police. But if your girlfriend does the same thing, you very well may just let it go or get into a rousing argument but probably not involve the authorities.

Intimate partner violence

The term intimate partner violence (IPV) encompasses a variety of aggressive behaviors committed by current or former partners. Victims of IPV can be either male or female. Types of IPV behaviors include the following:

  • Physical violence: These acts include punching, slapping, shoving, throwing objects at someone, stabbing, shooting, and any behavior intended to inflict physical injury.

  • Psychological aggression: These behaviors include expressions of contempt, yelling, screaming, name calling, making threats to harm, humiliating, and blaming. Psychological aggression includes threats of suicide or self-harm as a means of preventing one’s partner from leaving. It also includes unreasonable, controlling demands to isolate from friends and family, wear certain clothes, or engage in unwanted activities.

  • Sexual abuse: This type of IPV involves forcing a partner to engage in nonconsensual sexual activities of any sort.

  • Stalking: This category of IPV refers to a series of undesired actions that individually may not always appear particularly ominous but, when seen as a pattern, clearly communicate an intention to cause fear for one’s safety. Common stalking behaviors include sending repeated cards or love notes, showing up unexpectedly, transmitting unwanted texts and voice messages, delivering flowers and gifts, and breaking into homes.

    Some stalkers spend hours every day planning their crusades. A number of stalkers continue their campaign for years. If you’re the victim of a stalker, it’s important to involve the police or a domestic violence shelter.

How does IPV affect people? According to the United States Center for Disease Control, victims of IPV are at heightened risk for a variety of health problems, such as

  • Heavy smoking

  • Excessive drinking

  • Drug abuse

  • Unsafe sex (multiple partners, nonuse of condoms)

  • Panic attacks

  • Eating disorders

  • Depression

  • Suicide

Not a pretty picture.

The angry partnership

Marriage and committed partnerships are perhaps the most intimate relationships of all. Ideally, they’re based on trust, mutual respect, complementary interests, shared values, and abiding love. Many marriages and partnerships, however, are far from ideal. A couple who began as blissful lovers ends up in an angry relationship.

By “angry relationship,” is one in which anger defines both the emotional tone of the relationship as well as the couple’s primary style of interacting with one another.

The legal, moral, and emotional acceptance of various types of relationships other than traditional marriage has mushroomed. Therefore, the terms spouse, partner, and marriage to refer to all types of committed relationships. The terms spouse and marriage generally cover relationships that have been sanctioned by a legal and/or spiritual entity; whereas, the term partners usually involves a less formal yet still committed relationship. Here, the terms are used interchangeably.

To test whether you and your partner qualify as an angry couple, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you and/or your spouse get angry at least once a day?

  • Would you rate the intensity of your anger (or that of your partner’s anger) a 7 or higher on a 10-point scale, ranging from 1 (very mild) to 10 (very intense)?

  • Once provoked, does your anger (or your spouse’s) last for more than a half-hour?

  • Have either you or your partner ever pushed, shoved, or hit one another when you were angry?

  • Has your anger (or your spouse’s) ever left you (or your spouse) feeling anxious or depressed?

  • Would you say that you (or your partner) have become a much angrier person since you got together?

  • Do you or your partner find yourselves worrying about each other’s temper?

  • Do you frequently use inflammatory language (cursing) to communicate with your spouse (or does your spouse frequently use such language to communicate with you)?

  • Have you or your partner ever treated each other with contempt — belittling, demeaning, or devaluing each other?

  • Are you (or is your spouse) beginning to question whether you love your partner?

  • Do you (or your spouse) find yourselves answering anger with anger most of the time?

  • Do you (or your partner) feel unsafe in your marriage?

  • Do you or your partner always have to have the last word in a disagreement?

  • Do you and your spouse demand a lot of each other?

  • Do you or your spouse feel entitled to certain things in your marriage?

  • Would you (or your partner) describe your relationship as competitive?

  • Would you describe yourself or your partner as an impulsive person?

  • Do you or your spouse tend to dominate one another in conversations?

  • Have you or your partner ever thought about or actually sought counseling for problems arising out of anger?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, you should consider the possibility that you and your partner are an angry couple.