• Violent relationships are never okay, but is it possible for them to get better? That depends on if it’s characterological violence or situational violence.
  • Characterological violence is rooted in controlling and dominating behavior; this form of abuse is often innate and unchangeable, which means the relationship is likely unsalvageable.
  • Situational violence, on the other hand, stems from an escalating conflict and signifies some major changes that need to be made in the relationship.
  • If the couple decides to address the problem and learns how to resolve future conflicts properly, the abusive relationship can get better.

When I think about violence, I shudder. Whether it’s two MMA fighters battling it out on TV, a kid lashing out at his mother, or an argument that has escalated into a physical altercation between partners. I find the latter case particularly disturbing. The first example is obviously an organized fight, a sport—one that I personally don’t enjoy watching. The second example is a mistake made and a lesson to be learned by a child in the wrong. But in the third instance, the abuser has been driven by hate or anger and committed an inexcusable act.

An inexcusable act… does that mean that it’s unforgivable? Does that mean that there’s no hope for the relationship moving forward? The answer to this question varies, as it depends on the nature of the violence. Elizabeth Earnshaw, licensed marriage and family therapist, helps to explain when it’s best to end the abusive relationship for good and when there is hope for reconciliation.

Characterological Violence: Innate and Typically Unchangeable

“There are two types of intimate partner violence: characterological and situational,” Earnshaw explains. “When a therapist finds that characterological violence has been present, then therapy is not indicated. This is because it is mostly unchangeable. The simplest way to describe this type of abuse is that it is one in which the abuser is presenting controlling and dominating behavior. They also are unlikely to accept responsibility, are likely to show contempt and belittling behavior, and lack empathy and remorse.”

In sum, if a relationship is tainted by characterological violence in specific—which is often innate abusive behavior that is rarely corrected—the relationship has little to no hope for reaching a healthy place again. And it’s best that the two partners go their separate ways. Additionally, “it is important that the partner experiencing the abuse is finding safe support, which could include a shelter or domestic abuse hotline,” says Earnshaw.

Situational Violence: Out of Character and Often Reparable

Now, in other circumstances, a relationship is tainted by situational violence: or violence that resulted from an intensifying conflict that wasn’t resolved properly. “It is apparent that the violence was situational because it is not a pattern of behavior, there is not one partner dominating the other, and remorse is present,” Earnshaw explains. “In situational violence, both parties have often acted violently. This is caused by poor conflict resolution skills.” In these instances, the couple is able to heal and move forward, according to Earnshaw, so long as they learn to resolve their conflicts properly. She says this involves learning to stay away from…

  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling
  • Contempt

Additionally, they must get better at compromising, learn when the right time is to talk, and better manage their anger. Finally, Earnshaw says these couples should consider what allowed violence to enter the relationship: “Are substances an issue? Have they allowed their relationship to become negative? Are they identifying their partner as the enemy? Has stress gotten out of control?” She concludes by saying that ultimately, the partners must be willing to show remorse, discuss the wrongdoing, and take action to improve the relationship.

*If you are in a dangerous or life-threatening situation, get off this site. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or utilize another helpful resource on this page.*