Stephanie Livingston–Psychologist

Should a man ever hit a woman?

by on Sep.10, 2014, under Articles

Should a man ever hit a woman?
I was listening to the radio on my way home from work and heard a controversial conversation on a relationship program. The topic of discussion was about violence between men and women and whether or not a man should ever hit a woman. This discussion came on the heels of the suspension of ESPN columnist Stephen Smith for allegedly making politically incorrect statements about the incident involving Ray Rice being caught on video physically abusing his then fiancé and now wife. Although Smith never condoned Rice’s actions, the fact that he brought up the issue of “provocation” in preventing violence, created a firestorm of criticism. It is a sad day when we can’t look at situations objectively. Just the act of questioning what precipitates a violent event, to some suggests condoning the misdeed. People are capable of just about anything under the right conditions. We know that there are often precipitating factors that can trigger violent actions including, environmental conditions such as crowding and heat; acting in self-defense; and mutual consent. It’s not surprising that crime rates increase in summer and overcrowded hot tenement housing is the breeding ground for aggression. And it is not all that uncommon for both men and women to engage in violent acts with each other. And there are times that people act against their values to inflict unnecessary violence when an authority tells them to do so.
Studies on violent behavior have demonstrated each of these conditions. When people read a list of aggressive words that tend to act in an aggressive manner. Children who watch violent video games tend to act more aggressively. And workers may displace their anger toward a demeaning boss by coming home and kicking the dog. Each of these situations can lead to violence.
The Milgram studies demonstrated how obedience is influenced by authority by shifting blame. In this study, subjects pretending to be prison guards were instructed to give increasing amounts of shock to pretend prisoners, for giving incorrect answers to questions. Prison guards administered large amounts of shock when told to do so, despite hearing the cries of the person receiving shock. This study was conducted by Stanley Milgram to investigate the atrocities of Nazism.
The point here is that asking the question of provocation before a violent act is important. It does not suggest that the violent act is right or deserved nor blaming the victim, but merely asking the question as to the circumstances preceding the act. After all the goal is violence prevention. If, as a society, we hold fast to the idea that a man should never hit a woman under any circumstances, we are being remiss in doing all we can to stop relationship violence. Even the gentlest man has his limits. Although most domestic violence disputes are those where men have been the perpetrator, women can also be abusive. Spitting, pushing, scratching, kicking, and punching are just a few of the methods women have used to inflict violence on their mates. Some men don’t retaliate as we saw in the video of Jay Z and Beyonce’s sister in the elevator. She was clearly the attacker without a physical response from him. We don’t know what instigated her attack, but he appeared to be merely defending himself. Did he have the right to hit her back, or should he refrain no matter what?
I have treated many couples who are in domestic violence situations where both men and women are the instigators. In one case, Ann grew up in a violent home, where her parents argued and physically fought each other regularly. She learned to equate violence with love. Her husband, Henry grew up in a quiet, orderly Southern, home, where his father was the king of the castle and his mother was submissive. Henry coped with conflict by shutting down and isolating himself, because he did not know how to deal with Ann’s rage. Ann’s reaction to Henry’s distancing, was to chase after him with name calling ad even hitting. They came to therapy after Henry warned Ann twice that if she ever hit him again, he would divorce her because he did not want to retaliate, go to jail, and possibly lose he job and reputation. After a few sessions of effective communication exercises and anger management, they both agreed to call a time out if things got heated. Henry was able to keep his end of the bargain, but Ann was not. Their last argument resulted in Ann chasing after Henry when he took a time out to de-escalate the situation, and hitting him in the back with her fist. He moved out the next day and filed for divorce.
Ann continued treatment during and after the divorce and came to realize the error of her ways. She had not learned to deal with her frustrations in a healthy way and paid a high price. She loved Henry and harbored many regrets about how things turned out. She knew that if she ever wanted to marry again and have a healthier relationship she needed to get her anger under control. One year after the divorce, she reconnected with an old friend, who she eventually dated. Charles was her prince charming, but she was concerned that her anger issues would re-emerge because he was even more conservative than Henry. He was Muslim and held very strict views about what men and women should and should not do. She re-entered therapy to make sure she didn’t mess things up again. After two years of dating Charles proposed and Ann accepted. Although they have had their moments of Ann asserting herself too strongly, so far she has not crossed the line of putting her hands on him—but on occasion feels tempted.
The issue of provocation is a real one, when it comes to violence. Ann appeared to be a gentle, quiet person, until her buttons were pushed. Old childhood wounds can be the catalyst for behavior unbecoming of “nice girls.” Just like Milgram’s studies, if the conditions are right we do things we might not ordinarily do. A responsible person will try to make themselves aware of those triggers that can incite drama and try to avoid them. If things get too heated, walk away. People don’t usually “ask for it.” That statement is merely a justification for poor decision making. The victim of abuse does not make the abuser hurt them. The spouse doesn’t drive the alcoholic to drink. And the cheater isn’t forced to have an affair because of an inattentive spouse. Yes, name calling, nagging, or frigidity might be the triggers for each of these actions, but you still have a choice.
If you find that you are repeatedly in violent relationships, it’s time to look in the mirror. Do you confuse violence with love? Do you incite violent behavior? If you answered yes to any of these questions it’s time to get help. Stop the violence!

*If your anger level is a 7 or above on a scale of 1-10 (1=low anger, 10=high anger) walk away because you are probably not communicating anyway.
*Try listening to your partner rather than thinking only about what you want to say and talking over him/her.
*Bite your tongue when it comes saying hurtful things. Once it is out of your mouth you can’t take it back.
*Show compassion. Try to put yourself in the other person’s place.
*Learn to forgive.
*If your anger is far beyond what the situation calls for, you are probably angry with someone from your past and bringing it into the present.
*When angry take a few deep breaths and imagine yourself in a quiet relaxing place. Keep your blood pressure under control. Exuding calm can be contagious.


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