Jealousy and Domestic Violence

Intimate partner violence was mostly triggered by anxiety over cheating

(RxWiki News) Phone calls between men in jail for domestic violence and their partners shed light on the causes behind the violence. Jealousy, substance use and mental health problems were common factors.

A recent study found that jealousy was far more common in both long-term anxiety and instant triggering of domestic violence. This new information could help shape counseling and interventions.

"Reach out for help immediately if your partner is abusive."

Amy E. Bonomi, MD, MPH, associate professor of human development and family science, and Julianna M. Nemeth, MA, doctoral student in public health, from Ohio State University, co-authored a study on domestic violence.

For the study, researchers monitored around 4 hours of phone calls made by 17 men in jail for intimate partner violence (IPV) to their female partners.

Each phone call was gauged for immediate triggers of violence and long-term stressors that could have contributed to the violence.

Results of the study found that accusations of cheating, made by the man or woman, while drinking or using drugs, usually sparked the violent incident.

Long-term stressors included anxiety about cheating, fixation on gender roles or religious expectations, drug and alcohol use and worry over mental health issues like depression, anxiety and suicide threats or attempts.

Nemeth said, “What we were looking for was…what was the one thing that happened right before the violence that was the catalyst (spark).”

“I have worked in domestic violence intervention for many years, but still the findings shocked me. We never knew that it was the accusation of infidelity that tended to trigger the violence.”

Dr. Bonomi noted that this study was unique because the data was not collected from police reports or interviews, but rather the actual conversations between the couple after the incident.

Nemeth said, “We found that long-term disputes regarding infidelity pervaded nearly every relationship. Even if it didn’t trigger the violent event, it was an ongoing stressor in nearly all of the 17 couples we studied.”

Dr. Bonomi said, “We commonly heard the couples discuss how women are supposed to marry and have children, and how men are supposed to be strong and in control.”

“Men tended to use these traditional gender role prescriptions to justify their use of violence.”

The results of the study provide valuable information in how best to help mental health and social service providers to handle IPV situations.

The information found in the study on how drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues and jealousy factor into IPV can be used to shape intervention and counseling strategies.

Nemeth said, “We need more coordination to help people on all different levels.”

Dr. Barbara Long said, “This study provides insight into the role of jealousy in domestic/intimate partner violence. Jealousy is used to justify power and control over the victim. Watching for jealous comments and behavior, avoiding escalating arguments, leaving the situation at once, and seeking help can help victims avoid future mental and physical injury or even death.”

This study was published in June in the Journal of Women’s Health. The study was funded by the Criminal Justice Research Center at Ohio State and the Group Health Foundation of Seattle, no conflicts of interest were found.

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Review Date: 
August 8, 2012