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Symonds, M. (1978). The Psychodynamics of Violence-Prone Marriages Martin Symonds. Am. J. Psychoanal., 38:213-222.

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(1978). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 38(3):213-222

The Psychodynamics of Violence-Prone Marriages Martin Symonds

Martin Symonds, M.D.

The purpose of this article is to arrive at a psychodynamic understanding of the personality traits and interpersonal reactions of marital couples which produce the violence-prone marriage—a marriage that can frequently erupt into dramatic and sometimes tragic outburts of violence. The clinical basis for the observations and conclusions presented here come from the author's private practice, his special interest in the subject of violence and aggression, and from the Karen Horney Clinic Victimology Program, which has been broadened to include victims of family violence, specifically, the battered spouse. The increasing interest in this problem and development of many programs to help battered wives indicate that the subject of marital violence has come “out of the closet” and become available for professional exploration and examination.

Though the majority of reported incidents are those of wife beating and abuse, an interesting finding has been the uncovering of many incidents of abused and sometimes battered husbands. Langley and Levy1 cite studies with surprising statistics that indicate little difference in numbers between husbands beating their wives and wives beating their husbands. Though it is true that men have been physically abused by their wives, it is the women who have suffered severe and crippling injuries and have been profoundly terrorized by their husbands’ violent behavior.

While the capacity for violent behavior is present in all of us, the expression or even discussion of violence generally makes people uncomfortable. Throughout this paper I will be discussing violence, aggression, and hostility, and although these words are in common usage, they are poorly defined and even used interchangeably, resulting in more confusion. Despite the vast amount of scientific literature on these subjects, I found that I couldn't adequately apply them to my patients’ behavior until I developed clinically useful working definitions of these concepts.

As I use the word, aggression can be violent or nonviolent. Aggression is the expression of feelings, the goal of which is to force or control another person's behavior to either submit or comply with one's needs. Aggression can be what I have called vertical aggression2; this is standing-up, face-to-face, direct

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