BACKGROUND: Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a prevalent public health problem that affects millions of families. Much of what is known about IPV comes from quantitative studies that often "count" acts of IPV without exploring in depth the circumstances surrounding the violence, thereby leaving critical questions unanswered; existing qualitative studies tend to focus solely on women's perspectives. There is a dearth of dyadic qualitative research exploring the context of IPV in families with children, thus hindering the development of effective interventions for families experiencing IPV.
METHODS: Seven heterosexual couples were recruited from a University-based family therapy clinic to participate in qualitative interviews. Couples were eligible if they had experienced severe verbal or any physical aggression during the past 4 months; had ≥ one child living in the household; were English-speaking; and were ≥ 18. Each individual was interviewed separately. Key topics explored included specific types of violence used by men and women; primary triggers and the context surrounding aggressive disagreements; degree to which the child(ren) were exposed; and perceived consequences for adults and children.
RESULTS: All couples listed household responsibilities and parenting as key IPV triggers. Couples with infants reported that parenting disagreements were particularly heated, with women using aggression due to frustration about their partners' lack of support. Couples also described substance use, wanting to be heard, and prior violence histories as triggers or as the background context for IPV episodes. Children were present during IPV and often intervened in conflicts involving severe violence. Parents' perceptions of the effects of IPV on their children ranged from minimal to major emotional distress, with men describing more significant impact than women.
CONCLUSIONS: When describing acute triggers, parents most commonly mentioned that arguments were instigated by concerns about the division of household labor and parenting, a finding that may have significant implications for intervention development; this was particularly notable for parents of infants. Our findings emphasize the need for innovative programs that help parents cope with the stresses of raising a family as well as programs that directly address the consequences of IPV for children.
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