Dark Side of IPC

There seems renewed interest in the “dark side” of interpersonal communication. The Cupach & Spitzberg book (The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication) was published in 1994 (Erlbaum) and was, I think, the first book-length treatment of this topic in the communication field. For whatever reason (I guess there are many) there’s increased interest in this area. So, in the revision of Messages, one way I’m going to try to address this is to include something like the following. It’s my first draft.

The Dark Side of Interpersonal Relationships

Before reading about this important but often neglected topic, take the following self-test.

Test Yourself. Is Violence a Part of Your Relationship?
Based on your present relationship or one you know, respond to the following questions with Yes if you do see yourself in the question or No if you do not see yourself here.
_____ 1. Do you fear your partner’s anger?
_____ 2. Does your partner ever threaten you?
_____ 3. Has your partner ever verbally abused you?
_____ 4. Has your partner ever forced you to do something you didn’t want to do?
_____ 5. Has your partner ever hit (slapped, kicked, pushed) you?
_____ 6. Has your partner isolated you from your friends or relatives?
How did you do? These six items are all signs of a violent partner and a violent relationship. You might also want to change the questions around a bit and ask yourself if your partner would answer Yes to any of these questions about you?
What will you do? If any of these questions describes your relationship, you may wish to seek professional help. Discussing these questions with your partner, which may seem the logical first step, may well create additional problems and perhaps incite violence. So you’re better off discussing this with a school counselor or some other professional. At the same time, if any of these apply to you—if you are prone to relationship violence—do likewise—seek professional help. Additional suggestions are offered below.
Source: These questions were drawn from a variety of sources, for example, SUNY at Buffalo Counseling Services (http://ub-counseling.buffalo,edu/warnings.shtml, accessed 2/1/06), The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Women’s Heath Care Physicans (http://www.acog.org/departments/dept_notice.cfm?recno=17&bulletin=198, accessed 2/1/06), and The University of Texas at Austin, The Counseling and Mental Health Center (http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/booklets/relavio/relaviol.html, accessed 2/1/06).

What Is Relationship Violence?

Three types of relationship violence may be distinguished: physical abuse, verbal or emotional abuse, sexual abuse (Rice, 0000—the US Department of Veterans Affairs, http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/facts/specific/fs_domestic_violence.html?printable=no, accessed 2/1/06).
Physical abuse involves threats of violence as well as pushing, hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, throwing things at, and breaking things.
Verbal or emotional abuse involves humiliating, economic abuse such as controlling the finances or preventing you from working, isolating, criticizing, and stalking.
Sexual abuse involves touching that is unwanted, accusations of sexual infidelity without reason, forced sex, and referring to you with abusive sexual terms.
A great deal of research has centered on trying to identify the warning signs of relationship violence. Here, for example, are a few signs compiled by the State University of New York at Buffalo (http://ub-counseling.buffalo,edu/warnings/shtml, accessed 2/1/06):
belittles, insults, or ignores you
controls pieces of your life, for example, the way you dress or who you can be friends with
gets jealous without reason
can’t handle sexual frustrations without anger
is so angry or threatening that you’ve changed your life so as not to provoke additional anger
So prevalent is interpersonal violence that many colleges and universities, government agencies, and professional health organizations have established counseling centers to deal with the increasing interpersonal violence. Here are just a few statistics for the United States:
over 5 million incidents of interpersonal violence occur each year against women (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000)
interpersonal violence is responsible for almost 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths (http://www.cdc.gov/ncic/factsheets/ipvfacts.htm, accessed 2/1/06)
approximately 1 million women and over 350,000 men are stalked by their intimate partners each year (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000)
approximately 29% of women and 21% of men experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse in their lifetime (Coker, Davis, Arias, Desai, Sanderson, Brandt, et al, 2002)
Each year 1.5 million women and 800,000 men are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner
Approximately 20 to 30 percent of college dating relationships involve physical or verbal abuse (http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/booklets/relavio/relaviol.html, accessed 2/1/06)

The Effects of Violence

As you may expect there are a variety of consequences to relationship violence: physical injuries, psychological injuries, and economic “injuries” (http://www.cdc.gov/ncic/factsheets/ipvfacts.htm).

Physical Injuries
Most obviously when there is relationship violence there are often physical injuries. Physical injuries range from scratches and bruises to broken bones, knife wounds, and central nervous system disorders.

Psychological Injuries
Even when the physical injuries are relatively minor, the psychological injuries may be major and include, for example, depression, anxiety, fear of intimacy, and of course low self-esteem.

Economic Injuries
Consider the cost to the nation. It’s been estimated that it costs approximately $6.2 billion for physical assaults and almost $500 million for rape. Interpersonal violence also results in lost days of work. The Center for Disease Control estimated that interpersonal violence costs the equivalent of 32,00 full-time job in lost work each year. Additional economic costs are incurred when interpersonal violence prevents women from maintaining a job or continuing her education.

The Alternatives to Violence

Here are some ways in which a nonviolent relationship looks when compared with a violent relationship (http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/booklets/relavio/relaviol.html, accessed 2/1/06).
Instead of emotional abuse there is fairness; you look for resolutions to conflict that will be fair to both of you.
Instead of control and isolation there is communication that makes the partner feel safe and comfortable expressing himself or herself.
Instead of intimidation there is mutual respect, mutual affirmation, and valuing of each other’s opinions.
Instead of economic abuse, the partners make financial decisions together.
Instead of making threats, there is accountability—each person accepts responsibility for one’s own behavior.
Instead of exercising power over the person where one person is the boss and the other the servant, there is a fair distribution of responsibilities.
Instead of sexual abuse there is trust and respect for what each person wants and doesn’t want.

Dealing with Violence

In addition to seeking professional help (and of course the help of friends and family where appropriate)—whether you’re a victim or a perpetrator—here are several additional suggestions (http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/booklets/relavio/relaviol.html, accessed 2/1/06).
If your partner has been violent:
Realize that you’re not alone. Just review the statistics given above.
Realize you’re not at fault. You did not deserve to be the victim of violence.
Plan for your safety. Violence, if it occurred once, it’s likely to occur again.
Know your resources—the phone numbers you need to contact help, the location of money, and a spare set of keys.

If you are the violent partner:
Realize that you too are not alone. Review the statistics.
Know that you can change. It won’t necessarily be easy or quick but you can change.
Own your own behaviors; take responsibility. This is an essential step if any change is to occur.

Relationship violence is not an inevitable part of interpersonal relationships; in fact, it occurs in a minority of relationships. Yet, it’s important to know that there is the potential for violence in all relationships as there is he potential for friendship, love, support, and all the positive things we look for in relationships. Knowing the difference between productive and destructive relationships seems the best way to make sure that your own relationships are as you want them to be.

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