Experience in counselling work shows that often both partners are actively involved in the violent dynamic. The following exemplary situation is offered in the interests of better understanding: On grounds of a chronic illness, a woman expects the undivided attention of her partner and also demands this with reference to her personal suffering. Sometimes she adds weight to this demand with the threat of an otherwise impending relapse. The partner feels unable to meet or cope with this demand and perhaps also constricted by it.
As a consequence, she increasingly responds with resistance and the denigration of her partner. This phenomenon is characteristic of couples with a bi-directional violent dynamic. A distinction between perpetrator and victim is impossible in many cases since both women exert and are subject to violence. The partner of a woman who uses violence cannot be perceived solely as a victim in all cases, even if she perceives herself as such because of her experience of violence. Partners where the dynamic of violence is bi-directional often deny their own aggression and their own personal responsibility. In addition, when it comes to the exertion of psychological violence, this is seldom recognised and identified as violence (This applies both to the perception from outside and to the partners). In many cases, violence is only recognised on the physical level.
Involvement of the partner is important in the cases where the violent dynamic is bi-directional. This is possible through couple counselling and couple therapy, but also through individual work such as counselling, therapy or social training courses. In the various types of individual support offered it is important to ensure that the two women are in different settings (i.e. above all have different counsellors/therapists) or training groups.
One of the primary objectives of the work must be the creation of awareness and confrontation with the person’s own aggressive side. The perception of themselves as just a “victim” must be expanded to include the role of “perpetrator”. The focus is to confront both the experience of violence and the use of violence. It is important to convey to the clients that the problem is not solved simply because they have come to a counselling centre. Admitting the violence and having hurt someone they love and assuming full responsibility involves a lot of hard work.
The main aims of counselling have to be ending the violence, insight into personal behaviour and learning appropriate ways of solving conflicts. The client also has to think about how to apologize to her partner and how to make up for her behaviour, provided, that is, the partner is prepared to maintain contact with her.
There are types of counselling (see Cayouette, 1999) where the partner is integrated in the counselling process. This way the counsellor can check that the client’s partner is safe.