Power and Control: The Underlying Motivation for Domestic Violence

pexels-pixabay-163431-300x200It’s a reality of life that couples sometimes disagree–sometimes even loudly. Sometimes, an argument can get out of hand, leading one to accuse the other of domestic violence. If you’ve recently been arrested over such an argument, and it’s your first offense, you might be able to explain it as a disagreement that went too far. But if this is not your first time being accused of domestic violence, but perhaps even the third or fourth, that suggests a pattern of abuse. As uncomfortable as it might be, it’s probably time to look at the underlying causes behind these behavior patterns. In many cases, if not most, it comes down to a need to exert power and control over your partner.


Power dynamics in abusive relationships can often be subtle and sometimes quite overt–but so prevalent is the dynamic of control in abusive relationships that California has even passed a “coercive control” law, which enables victims to seek a protective order simply by providing evidence of a “pattern of behavior that unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty.” The bottom line is that if you are a repeat offender, there’s a high probability that you have control issues regarding your partner. So, let’s delve into this idea and see what we can learn.

Understanding Power and Control in Relationships

In intimate relationships, power and control should be balanced and shared. However, when one partner begins to assert dominance over the other, it can lead to an unhealthy dynamic. This behavior often manifests itself in various forms of abuse, including emotional manipulation, financial control, and physical violence.

Consider, for example, a situation where one partner consistently belittles the other’s opinions or feelings, subtly undermining their confidence. Or perhaps one partner controls all financial decisions, leaving the other with no say or independence. These scenarios reflect an imbalance of power and control, which can quickly escalate into abusive behavior.

The Power and Control Wheel 

One important tool that is used to explain the complexities of abusive relationships is the Power and Control Wheel. Developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, it visually delineates the different tactics employed by abusers to maintain power and control over their victims. The wheel comprises eight sections: intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing/denying/blaming, using children, economic abuse, male privilege, and coercion and threats. Each section represents a specific form of abuse that, when combined, creates a pattern of total dominance and control. The image of a wheel is intended to indicate a cyclical pattern that operates continuously unless it is purposefully disrupted. The Power and Control Wheel is a critical resource for professionals, victims, and even abusers themselves, helping to identify, understand, and ultimately break the cycle of domestic violence.

Is Your Domestic Violence History Tied to Control? What to Look For

If you’re accused of domestic violence, you can utilize the Power and Control Wheel as a starting point or checklist to determine whether power and control are at the heart of your problem. Look at the list of telltale signs and ask yourself the following questions:


  • Intimidation: Do you often resort to aggressive behaviors, threats, or use physical objects or gestures to instill fear in your partner?
  • Emotional Abuse: Are you frequently criticizing, humiliating, or degrading your partner? Do your actions and words often belittle them or make them feel worthless?
  • Isolation: Have you limited your partner’s contact with the outside world? This could include restricting their interactions with family and friends, monitoring their movements, or controlling their communications.
  • Minimizing, Denying, Blaming: Do you often trivialize your actions, deny any wrongdoings, or blame your partner for your abusive behavior?
  • Using Children: Do you manipulate your children or use them as pawns in your arguments? Have you ever threatened to harm them or take them away from your partner?
  • Economic Abuse: Are you controlling your partner’s finances, preventing them from working or studying, or forcing them to be financially dependent on you?
  • Male Privilege: If you’re the male in a heterosexual relationship, are you asserting a traditional patriarchal role, treating your partner like a servant, making all major decisions, and acting as the “master of the house”?
  • Coercion and Threats: Do you make or carry out threats to do something harmful, threaten to leave, commit suicide, or report your partner to welfare agencies?


The premise behind the Power and Control Wheel is not just that the need for control is a motivator for domestic abuse but that the abuse itself is a means of control. If you can look at the Power and Control Wheel and see your own behaviors toward your spouse or partner, it’s a good indicator that this is a major dynamic in your relationship that needs to be addressed to help you break the cycle.

Taking Responsibility and Seeking Change

If you find yourself identifying with any of the behaviors mentioned above, it is crucial that you recognize these as signs of abusive tendencies. Taking responsibility for your actions and seeking professional help immediately is important. Remember, acknowledging the problem is the first step toward change. 

Begin by practicing self-reflection. Identify instances where you may have unfairly exerted control or power over your partner. Understand what triggered this behavior and consider how you might react differently in the future.

Next, seek support from trusted friends or professionals who can provide unbiased advice and guidance. Express your desire to change and be open to their feedback.

Lastly, consider seeking professional help. Therapists and counselors specializing in domestic violence can provide tools and strategies to help you understand and change your behavior. They can also offer resources for anger management and emotional regulation.

Addressing these issues won’t be easy, but they will go a long way toward helping you break the cycle of domestic violence arrests. For compassionate legal representation for your current charges, we are here to help. If you’re facing domestic violence charges in Southern California, call our offices today for a consultation.

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