Below the fold, I quote from a fascinating interview with John Gottman in which he describes two kinds of domestic violence, or more exactly, two distinct types of spousal abuse (HT: Marilyn Johnson).
Many people know that John Gottman is a world-renowned family psychologist. Not everyone knows that Gottman is an RK (rabbi’s kid) – in a previous post, I noted that Vincent van Gogh was a PK (pastor’s kid). Gottman is the son of an Orthodox rabbi from Vienna. His parents, who met at a Zionist organization, escaped Europe in 1940. Gottman was born in the Dominican Republic and attended a Lubavitcher yeshiva in Brooklyn for elementary school. Today he identifies as a Conservative Jew, keeps kosher and keeps Shabbat.
John Gottman talks about two kinds of violence in marriage:
"We've reconstructed it from what we have learned by talking to people about it, and it does seem that there are two very distinct forms of violence. One form is where the conflict escalates, and people somehow lose control. They get to a point where the trigger seems to be feeling disrespected and there's a loss to their dignity. They feel driven to defend that dignity, and start doing things like posturing and threatening while in a state of high and diffuse physiological arousal, and they increasingly have a loss of control. The violence tends to be symmetrical, and there is not a clear victim and perpetrator."
This kind of violence is often described at length in marriage books designed to help couples overcome destructive patterns characterized by escalation and loss of control. For example, Emerson Eggerichs treats this kind of violence, which even “good-willed” spouses are easily caught up in, in his best-selling Love & Respect.
"Another kind of violence, which is very different, is where one person in the relationship is using violence to control and intimidate the other person and is very much not physiologically aroused, very much in control and trying to do something to the other person that alters their idea of reality. There is a perpetrator and a victim here, The late Neil Jacobsen and I have called this kind of mind control "gaslighting," after the movie with Ingrid Bergman. I'd like to understand those two kinds of violence. I think the first one is treatable, particularly early, by looking at the couple relationship and changing the relationship. It may be even treatable later on, by slowing things down enough and physiological arousal has a place in it. The second type of violence is more elusive at the moment, although some initial experiments that I and Julia Babcock and her students have designed show promising proximal, that is, short term effects with these perpetrators."
It is important to distinguish between domestic violence whose perpetrator is an evil-willed abuser dedicated to coercive control, and the vanilla-flavored mutual variety of mistreatment referred to previously.
Gottman self-identifies as an egalitarian. Even so, he is big on gender differences. Gender differences, of course, are not absolute, but that does not make them less important. Many egalitarians are at a loss when asked to identify typical gender differences which are important to take into account in the pursuit of healthy marriages. If Gottman is right, it is important that advice for husbands and wives not be symmetrical but rather, gender-nuanced – a baseline point of departure in Eggerichs’ Love & Respect.
Gottman notes in the interview:
"Because men are different. Men have a lot of trouble when they reach a state of vigilance, when they think there's real danger, they have a lot of trouble calming down. and there's probably an evolutionary history to that. Because it functioned very well for our hominid ancestors, anthropologists think, for men to stay physiologically aroused and vigilant, in cooperative hunting and protecting the tribe, which was a role that males had very early in our evolutionary history. Whereas women had the opposite sort of role, in terms of survival of the species, those women reproduced more effectively who had the milk-let-down reflex, which only happens when oxytocin is secreted in the brain, it only happens when women - as any woman knows who's been breast-feeding, you have to be able to calm down and relax. But oxytocin is also the hormone of affiliation. So women have developed this sort of social order, caring for one another, helping one another, and affiliating, that also allows them to really calm down and have the milk let-down reflex. And so - it's one of nature's jokes. Women can calm down, men can't; they stay aroused and vigilant."
Here’s the link. Enjoy.