The study is groundbreaking because actual phone conversations between abusers and their victims were analyzed, Bonomi said. “We never before had the couple together discussing just among themselves what happened during the violent episode.”
The observed couples had other issues in their respective relationships, (primarily alcohol and drug abuse), but infidelity was the most likely trigger to a violent episode.
“We found that long-term disputes regarding infidelity pervaded nearly every relationship,” Nemeth explains. “Even if it didn’t trigger the violent event, it was an ongoing stressor in nearly all of the 17 couples we studied.”
Men who held traditional beliefs about gender roles (i.e., that a woman’s place was in the kitchen, etc.), used their perceived dominant status to justify their violence. Also, these men exercised control over when and if their partner would have children; five women who accused their partners of cheating were severely beaten while pregnant, and two women lost their babies due to the violence.
The researchers analyzed up to four hours of conversation from each couple, and the couples knew that they were being recorded. They concluded that health care providers should consider sexual jealousy as a warning sign of a dangerous domestic situation.
“A lot of safety plan tools don’t ask specifically about sexual jealousy and infidelity, but it is a question we should be asking,” Nemeth notes. “If it is an issue that couples are discussing, it is a red flag that the relationship may be volatile.”