What Causes Domestic Violence in Veterans?

Published On: October 21, 2022|Categories: Veterans|
Cropped shot of a soldier and his unrecognizable wife sitting on the couch with their arms crossed after an argument

When we talk about domestic violence, we’re usually focused on victims — ensuring their safety, stability and access to any treatment they may need — and for good reason. Even after a victim leaves an unsafe situation, any kind of abuse by an intimate partner can have lasting negative effects on their mental, emotional and physical well-being. Unfortunately, if the victim doesn’t leave the abusive environment, domestic violence can even end in fatality.

Less often discussed is the fact that perpetrators of domestic violence are frequently suffering from treatable conditions that need to be addressed in order for them to break the cycle of abuse and lead a healthy life.

Research suggests that rates of domestic or intimate partner violence are higher among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared with the overall population. This is most likely because of the unique pressures and demands that military life places on intimate relationships as well as conditions such as trauma, depression and traumatic brain injury. Let’s explore the data on domestic violence among veterans and their families.

What is domestic violence?

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, domestic or intimate partner violence encompasses physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse as well as stalking behavior. While all couples may disagree or argue at times, the following behaviors are abnormal and may indicate domestic violence:

  • Physical aggression
  • Insults and name-calling
  • Threats
  • Forcing someone to participate in sexual activities against their will
  • Controlling behaviors

Intimate partner violence can occur between any individuals who have shared an intimate relationship, including current or former spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends or sexual partners. Additionally, domestic violence can be present whether or not the two intimate partners actually live together, and regardless of sexual orientation, gender, culture, income level or age.

Statistics on domestic violence in military families

In the general population, one in three women and one in four men will experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lives.

The overall number of veterans who have abused their partners is estimated to be anywhere from 15 to 60 percent. One study found that among 43 percent of veteran couples, the men reported abusive behavior toward their partners. On the other hand, 35 percent of veterans have been victims of domestic violence. Another study found that more than half (55 percent) of military couples affected by PTSD had experienced a physical altercation of some kind.

Why is domestic violence more prevalent in veterans?

For veterans, reintegrating into family life after deployment can be challenging and stressful, with 60 percent of veterans stating that their family relationships changed afterward. Especially for those who have experienced traumatic events during their service, common symptoms of PTSD such as hypervigilance and substance use can exacerbate conflicts at home. 

For example, a combat veteran might have what appears to be an extreme overreaction to someone simply tapping them on the shoulder. Feelings of moral injury, anger and irritability can lead to rages and outbursts in a survivor of military trauma. Drinking alcohol or using drugs to numb negative emotions or forget painful memories can lower inhibitions and cognitive function, leading to aggressive or violent behavior.

Not all veterans who have experienced trauma and struggle with substance use or mental health issues will show aggression toward their partners. In addition, while substance abuse is correlated with domestic violence and can cause existing domestic violence to escalate, not everyone with substance use disorder will become violent toward their significant other.

Impact of using violence in relationships

We know that being a victim of abuse by an intimate partner is dangerous and can result in long-term physical and emotional ailments and even death. Domestic violence can also have extreme negative emotional, financial and legal consequences on the perpetrator. Examples of these consequences might include:

  • Guilt and shame over abusive behavior, which perpetuates the cycle by discouraging the individual from seeking help
  • Feeling out of control of your reactions and behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Separation or divorce
  • Lost relationships with children, family members and/or friends
  • Negative impacts on children growing up in the abusive environment
  • Criminal charges, arrests and restraining orders due to violent behavior
  • Loss of employment

If you’re concerned about your own behavior toward your spouse or significant other, reach out for help. While this might be difficult or painful to share with another person, seeking help is the first step toward changing the harmful thought patterns and behaviors leading to aggression and violence.

Treatment for domestic violence

It’s true that domestic violence is never acceptable. However, with professional treatment, these harmful behaviors can be addressed and replaced with effective coping mechanisms. As long as an individual is willing to seek therapy, there’s hope for a better quality of life and healthier relationships. 

At Pyramid Military Therapy and Recovery Programs, we specialize in helping veterans heal from the underlying trauma that can drive violent or aggressive behaviors. Clients are surrounded by non-judgmental staff as well as veteran peers who have had similar experiences in a safe, structured and supportive environment. Contact us today to learn more.

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