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What Are the Causes of an Abusive Relationship?

author image Sarah Smenyak
Sarah Smenyak has a Master of Science degree in counseling and human services from Indiana University. She has been a contributor to and uses her experiences as an educator, a parent, a long-time runner and coach to encourage others in their mental and physical health goals.
What Are the Causes of an Abusive Relationship?
Woman staring out window drinking coffee with hand pressed up against window. Photo Credit: petrunjela/iStock/Getty Images

"Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 to 44" according to findings by the former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Abuse in relationships can be in the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse or emotional abuse and can have a combination of causes from mental instability in the mind of the abuser to the complications of drug or alcohol abuse.

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The Need For Control

Relationship partners who are abusive often have a high need for control. This need for control can stem from low self-esteem or jealousy. Sometimes abusers come from backgrounds in which women are seen as inferior to men and they assert their dominance over their partner through abusive behaviors. Low self-esteem can also lead people to stay in abusive situations, because they do not believe they deserve better or have the power to get out of the relationship.

Learned Behaviors

People who grow up in abusive situations, may come to see abuse as normal and perpetuate a cycle of violence by becoming an abuser themselves or a victim of abuse. Dr. Toby Goldsmith states that "children who witness or are the victims of violence may learn to believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict."

Substance Abuse

Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to violent behaviors. According to the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Addiction Services, "violent men are more likely to abuse alcohol than nonviolent men. Estimates of alcohol and drug abuse by violent men ranges form 52 to 85 percent-- rates three times those of nonviolent men." Drug and alcohol abuse creates stress in the family, which can lead to abuse and heavy use of these substances can inhibit good decision making. Often, both the abuse and the victim may have been under the influence when the abuse occurred.

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