Assessing Partner Abuse in Couples Therapy

Assessing Partner Abuse in Couples Therapy

by Albert Dytch

Learn how to spot the often subtle signs of partner abuse in couples therapy, and how to take effective action. This article includes the author's Abusive Behavior Inventory as a free download.
Mark and Julie were in their late thirties, and had been married for seven years after living together for three. During their initial session with me, they expressed concern that they had been drifting apart over the past year. They were both under considerable stress. Julie’s planned six-month leave of absence from her job following the birth of their son Brandon had now lasted four years. Brandon required lots of Julie’s time: he was highly impulsive, displayed frequent temper tantrums, and recently bit another child at daycare. Mark supported the family as a salesman for a medical equipment firm, but getting along without Julie’s income meant longer hours and more frequent travel.
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Albert Dytch
Albert J. Dytch, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has been treating partner abuse and domestic violence since 1984. He has worked at Men Overcoming Violence and STAND! Against Domestic Violence and was co-founder of The Center for NonAbusive Relationships. He currently leads four men’s anger management/partner abuse groups in his private practice in Oakland, where he also sees individuals, couples, and families. Albert has been a frequent presenter on the topic of partner abuse and consults with other therapists on their difficult or dangerous cases. He can be reached at 510-452-6243 or on the web at
This was a fabulous article! I work as both a therapist at a domestic violence agency as well as in private practice. I have recommended this article to many colleagues.
This is just what I was looking for - DV keeps appearing in my practice when working with couples, and I have had to admit that I sometimes had no idea an abusive system is at play. This was succinct, very clear and helpful, and a great introduction to the subject. thank you!
Thank you so much for such a clear picture of this. I was in an emotionally And verbally abusive marriage for 20 years. I don't know if this would have helped, right now I'm just grateful to be out. I work hard with my grown sons to highlight any behavior I see in them and explain why it could be abusive or controlling, and that helps a lot. The sad thing is that when you've focused so long on what you're doing wrong, it's hard to get out of that and see that every interaction that doesn't go well is not your fault. Being blamed for decades for his behavior by him and the counselors is only cured when I remember that I do not act a certain way because of anyone else's actions-- and neither does anyone else. I'm responsible for me and so are they.
I found this article to be hopeful. I have been in an emotionally abusive relationship for 7 years. I just married my husband less than three months ago and even since our wedding day, we've had a few pretty severe fights. Every article or web page I see on emotionally abusive relationships say the only way to stop it is to leave. I love my husband and don't want to give up. The hardest part is going to be getting him to admit that he is, at least partially, to blame. I am glad to see that the couple in your article has been living in a healthy relationship for 6 months. That gives me hope! Thank you.
I have been in an abusive relationship for 25 years and feel I have been "re-abused" by couples therapy including imago. Finally I have extricated myself and am receiving therapy—thank you, thank you. I still have a problem with minimizing my situation and your inventory brings the reality back to me.
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CE credits: 1
Learning objectives:

  • By reading this article you will:
  • Understand the common pitfalls in missing partner abuse with a couple client.
  • Learn strategies for assessment and intervention when domestic violence is suspected or confirmed.
  • Acquire a new instrument to assess for partner abuse.
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