A group of independent counselors serving Kingwood and Houston
Specializing in Gottman MethodTM Couples and Marriage Counseling

Posts Tagged ‘domestic violence’

Domestic Violence: Can Couples Therapy Help?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, so I thought I would shed some light on this grim topic.

John Gottman and his colleague, Neil Jacobson, studied domestic violence in couples at The University of Washngton.   They found that there are two distinct types of batterers in violent relationships: Cobras and Pit Bulls.

“Cobras”, like the venomous snake, attack their partner without warning. They have sociopathic, antisocial traits and a pathological need for power and control. Their behavior is calculating and sadistic. Cobras do not tolerate their authority being challenged, with anyone, not just their partners.   They tend to be more violent than pit bulls, yet abused women have a hard time leaving Cobras because of the power and control exerted on them. One unsettling finding that Gottman and Jacobson found in their research is that cobras get more physiologically calm as they get more aggressive, whereas pit bulls experience physiological arousal.

“Pit Bulls”, have stereotypical traits of a vicious dog latching on and not letting go. These men are emotionally dependent on their partners. They fear abandonment and are controlling, jealous and react violently to perceived betrayal. Pit bulls are generally viewed as charming men because their behavior is only directed at one person. Cobras, on the other hand, are aggressive towards everyone in their life, including pets. Abused women can be more successful getting away from Pit Bulls, but Pit Bulls are the ones that can be homicidal when they feel abandoned. When a woman leaves a Cobra, there is still risk, but the Cobra moves on to a new victim more quickly.

These two types are classified under the heading of “Characterological Domestic Violence” because there is clear control and dominance in the abuser and fear in the victim.   Couples therapy is contraindicated in these situations and the abused partner should be referred to a therapist for individual counseling, a women’s shelter and/or law enforcement.

But what about the couples that drinks too much on a Saturday night and end up in a brawl with one another? “Situational Domestic Violence” erupts when couples lack conflict management skills and as their fights escalate, they can turn physical. These couples do not share the traits of Pit Bulls or Cobras and often feel remorse for their actions.

When couples seek help for their relationship, we conduct a thorough assessment, including an assessment of domestic violence. If the therapist deems couples therapy is appropriate for situational domestic violence (not characterological domestic violence), we can work with the couple to learn how to de-escalate arguments. We can also work with couples to recognize and manage physiological arousal and practice self-soothing before arguments turn physical.

To learn more about domestic violence, read Gottman and Jacobson’s book When Men Batter Women.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Therapist


Inside Story: Brooks Roll Talks about Domestic Violence

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

brooks (2)October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  This annual observance brings our attention to the tragic effects of abusive relationships.  The goal is to support unacceptable number of victims of domestic violence who live in fear daily.

Brooks Roll, LCSW has years of experience working as a domestic violence counselor.  I asked him to share some of his insights to bring domestic violence out of the shadows.

MBG:  How would you define domestic violence?

BR:  Domestic violence is the abuse of power in order to control the other person. It can take the form of emotional abuse, belittling, putting her or him down, name calling, destruction of the others property. It can and is more often recognized when it takes the form of physical abuse. The latter often heals more quickly than the former.

MBG:  What makes it hard for someone to leave an abusive partner?

BR:  People are often asked, “Why don’t they just leave?”.  In abusive relationships, it was usually not immediately abusive and the abuser has often ingrained in the victim of abuse poor self-esteem. (I would often ask the abuser if they got into the relationship to have someone to beat up. That was never the professed case.) They will often tell you that they love the abuser, this does not by any stretch of the imagination mean they love the abuse. They have invested a great deal of time in this relationship and often see walking away as another failure and character flaw on their part. They are often fiscally and emotionally dependent on the abuser. The major reason that it had been hard to stop the abuse is because the victim did not want their spouse in jail and not out earning a living so they would refuse to testify.

MBG:  What is “The Cycle of Violence?”

BR:  The “Cycle of violence” is a spiral where the build-up to violence may be very gradual and very long. Once it starts there is then a ‘honeymoon phase” where the abuser is ashamed and does special favors and works to regain the favor of the victim. They may buy flowers, or other special gifts. Then something happens and tension starts building and there is another incident of violence/abuse. Then the honeymoon phase. The honeymoon phases become shorter and the violence often escalates with each incident.

MBG:  What is the impact of domestic violence on children?

BR:  The effect on children is often devastating. With higher rates of violence at school (it is a viable alternative), higher rates of teen pregnancy, more incidents of sexual assault, food addictions, substance abuse, runaway, and truancy. Young children misperceive and see themselves as the cause of the perpetrator’s violence against the intimate partner. Male children have a greater propensity to have a battering relationship with their intimate partners as they become adults. Many children are put in the position of pervayers of what the partner is doing when the partners are separated or divorced. Violence becomes an acceptable norm in intimate relationships.  The most frightening statistic though is that more than 50% of the young men between the ages of 15 and 21 who are in prison for murder, killed their mother’s abuser.

Domestic violence can only be eradicated if we have a zero tolerance policy. For more information contact National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-SAFE(7233) Texas Council on Family Violence (800) 525-1978.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

Certified Gottman Therapist

Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy Associates provides service to Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Porter, Fall Creek, Summerwood, North Houston and surrounding areas.

Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates

2330 Timber Shadows Drive
Suite 106
Kingwood, Texas 77339
Ph: 281-812-7529


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