A New Intervention for Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence relationships benefit from communication training

(RxWiki News) Could intimate partner violence be helped through better communication skills? The research team at the Center for Couples Therapy in Houston thinks so.

When men who are typically violent in their relationships learn and use communication skills, the couple’s arguments have better results.

"Contact a local women's shelter for help."

Julia Babcock, PhD, an Associate Professor at the University of Houston and the Co-Director of the Center for Couples Therapy in Houston studied the effects of using new communication skills for couples experiencing intimate partner violence.

Dr. Babcock and the researchers recruited 120 couples for the study. For a couple to be accepted they had to have had at least two acts of domestic violence in the past year.

The couples were asked to have a 15-minute argument in Dr. Babcock’s lab while being observed by the researchers. During the observation, the couple’s heart rate, breathing and pulse were also monitored.

Halfway through the 15-minute argument, the couple was interrupted and the man was randomly assigned one of three situations: a time-out, a change from using negative words to neutral words, or a change to listening to and accepting his wife’s ideas.

When they returned to the argument, the two groups of men who had learned the new communication skills were asked to use them. According to both the participants and the researchers, the second half of the argument went more smoothly for those that changed the way they spoke to their wives.

The men from these two groups said they felt less aggressive in the second half of the argument. The researchers reported the same results from their observations; the men were experiencing less aggression after using the communication skills they had learned. 

The men who took a time-out but did not learn any new skills felt just as aggressive in the second half of the argument as they did in the first half.

The research suggests that learning helpful communication skills could change the way a couple argues, even a violent couple. With new communication skills, the men weren’t as verbally abusive as before.

“The idea is that reducing such psychological abuse may reduce intimate partner violence,” said Dr. Babcock.


This research was published in the Journal for Behavior Therapy and won the “Best of 2011 Violence Research” award. The project was funded by a grant through the National Institute of Health and the University of Houston. No conflicts of interest were found.

Review Date: 
August 10, 2012