Family Dynamics, Challenges and Stressors


Violence against women is often perpetrated by an intimate male partner, a husband or a family member living in the same house as the victim. According to the World Report on Violence and Health, intimate partners in abusive relationships account for 40% to 70% of homicides worldwide against women. Intimate partner abuse is a form of abusive behaviour also referred to as “battering”, “wife-beating”, or “domestic violence.” Women are susceptible to various forms of violence in their lifetime. It is generally perceived that women are of the weaker sex; and thus weak socially, physically and even financially. Women are prone to mental and physical torture, physical assault, humiliation, psychological abuse such as consistent intimidation and coercive sex from their husbands. Men also tend to monitor the movement of their wives, isolate them from friends and family, and restrict them from accessing services and resources, and thus abusing them. This paper focuses on domestic violence in military families, including a case study of a vignette and resiliency and counselling interventions for victims.

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Keywords: battering, psychological abuse, wife-beating, intimidation, domestic violence, intimate partners, coercive sex, humiliation


Everyone is vulnerable to domestic violence and can become a victim anywhere and at any time despite their race, level of education, service in the military, gender, religion, age or ethnicity. Service members often experience stress, including their families. However, it is not a justification, explanation or excuse for domestic violence whatsoever. Furthermore, alcohol, anger or drugs are not explanations or excuses for abuse. Therefore, it is important for the military family, including service members, parents, spouses, caregivers or siblings to know about the valuable resources available for victims of domestic violence. Loving relationships should not encompass any sort of crime such as domestic violence. It is also not an acceptable or normal by-product of military service life (Buchanan et al., 2009).

Therefore, every member of a military family should know how to identify domestic violence in its various forms such as sexual violence (rape), physical violence (grabbing, hitting, yanking, pushing, choking, biting, slapping, etc.), emotional or psychological abuse (insulting, humiliating, ignoring, isolating, controlling financially, etc.), threat of sexual or physical abuse (looks, words, control gestures or frighten), and stalking (harassing, following or tracking electronically to impart fear). If a military family member experiences any of the above situations, they should take action as described in this paper to protect themselves and find proper care for domestic violence victims. Behaviour health professionals can treat the psychological issues that cause perpetrators to harm their spouses. Military families also have access to individual or couple counselling services, housing assistance for shelter and legal advice. This paper discusses domestic violence in military families, based on a case study of one such family (Defence Task Force on Domestic Violence, n.d).

A Fictional Military Family Vignette

Sarah is a 41 year old female. The perpetrator was a veteran, her second husband, the first marriage also having been abusive. She has been undergone domestic abuse for over 20 years. She is a Christian and a holder of a college degree in IT. But, she stopped working when her husband forced her to resign from her job and become a ‘housewife’.

Individual and Family Dynamics, Concerns, Challenges and Stressors

Sarah has 6 sons, the youngest three came with her, the older two remained in the marital home with the perpetrator, and this had been their choice, even though the perpetrator was not their father. The oldest son had left home. Sarah had suffered from emotional, physical and sexual abuse, as well as financial abuse and controlling behaviour. She described her husband as ‘very clever and manipulative’ and he is also ex armed forces, and Sarah was clearly very afraid of him. Sarah had no friends, and only elderly parents to support her. She felt that her older children had remained when she fled as they had been poisoned against her by the perpetrator, and they blamed her for leaving. From the day of arrival the perpetrator was constantly on the phone to Sarah, telling her what to do and shouting at her.

Sarah was also meeting the perpetrator to allow contact for the younger children. Shortly after Sarah arrived the perpetrator started court proceedings to take custody of the younger children. At this point Children’s Services became involved due to the child aged 4 remarking at school that his daddy had hurt him. Sarah presented various related issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She experiences flashbacks of her abusive relationship, feels unsafe and jumpy and has depression, anxiety, emotional withdrawal, panic attacks, low self-esteem, and helplessness feelings. She felt guilty for not leaving the relationship earlier because of her children and blamed herself for the abuse she her two husbands subjected her to. Sarah also has a history of a traumatic experience during her childhood and never got treatment (Buchanan et al., 2009).

Incorporation of Resiliency

Psychological resilience is an individual’s ability to “bounce back” after going through an adversity such as domestic violence. And, the way victims of domestic violence often survive and thrive after a traumatic experience is amazing and astonishing at the same time. Resilience in an innate human capacity within each person. It can be learned and developed because it is not a trait, but something every human can develop as a skill to walk the path of resilience. According to the Resilience Research Centre, an individual’s human capacity to negotiate and navigate useful resources for the sustainability of their well-being is what is known as resilience. It is a domestic violence victim’s ability to create plans and follow through with them to the latter, manage feelings and impulses and solve problems. It is more than just a skill, but an adaptation (Gewirtz & Youssef, 2016).

Trauma is common in human life, hence part of human experience. That means military family victims of domestic violence can overcome their traumatic experience and attain successful, well-adjusted lives. According to a research conducted by the University of Minnesota researcher and psychologist, Ann Masten, research on resilience is a unique phenomenon. Human ability to adapt to traumatic experiences is remarkable and thus there would be no surprise if fundamental human operation works. Post-traumatic growth, according to Bruce Ellis of the University of Arizona, counterbalances an incomplete deficit model to help understand human experience after a trauma such as domestic violence. It is after a bad experience that humans become adaptable. Adverse childhood experiences foster the development of specialised adaptation skills. Positive changes that result after trauma can help appreciate the factors behind a bolstered resilience capacity (Johnson, 2008).

Military family members victim to domestic violence require internal support such as problem-solving and communication skills, external support such as caring family and friends, and existential support such as religious and cultural values to develop psychological resilience after a traumatic experience. Culture promotes resilience, affects how people develop networks, the skills and abilities they deem valuable, and determines human’s core beliefs and values. It means an individual’s culture can affect their response to a traumatic experience, promoting different resiliencies. Building resilience capacity would involve being risk-focused to minimise of prevent exposure to adversity, and asset-focused to aim at increasing resources and their access. It is also process-focused to harness adaptive networks or systems power (Gewirtz & Youssef, 2016).

Most importantly, military family victims of domestic violence require supportive and caring relationships both within the family and outside to develop resilience to help them overcome traumatic experiences. Victims find role models in relationships that show them love and trust, offering them the reassurance and encouragement they need to improve their personal resilience. Advocates and helpers that work with domestic violence victims also need to develop their personal resilience capacity. Modelling this critical process is powerful enough to help victims develop adaptive skills in the survivors that they are. According Psychology Today, the healing process is all about using the wisdom gained from the traumatic experience to live a more fulfilling life, but not becoming a person you were not before the traumatic experience (Johnson, 2008).

Life is ever evolving and so is resilience. It is a journey that has no end just like the healing process. Victims are able to cope, navigate and thrive better in presence of negative experiences with resilience skills. Victims and those according them care can identify or name their experience, tell a story, practice mindfulness, ground themselves in their bodies and seek support to help them develop resilience. With the help of the victim’s power within, they can create better health (In Lockhart & In Danis, 2010).

Incorporation of and Counselling Interventions

Various interventions can help military family domestic violence victims recover. The first step involves ensuring the victim is safe, especially if they still live with their abusive spouse. A safety plan should be created and worked through with the victim with caution being taken with regards to assertive interventions. Counsellors must let the victim control therapy pace using trauma-informed care to avoid triggering PTSD-like symptoms due to aggressive discussions of the traumatic experience. Counsellors must also not be judgmental and creating the impression that it is the victim’s fault, causing re-stigmatization. Victims must be given time to open up about their abusive experience only when they feel safe and ready to talk about it. Only behavior-specific questions should be asked during assessment because the victim might have a different perception if asked whether they have ever been abused (Lawhorne & Philpott, 2013).

Abuse can affect a victim’s mental and physical life, including finances, parenting and housing. It takes a holistic approach to help them rebuild their self-worth and life. They need help creating goals to recreate their life. Counsellors can help domestic violence victims develop coping mechanisms to deal with going back to the dating scene or co-parenting with abusive ex-husband after going through domestic violence. An interdisciplinary approach allows counsellors to work with support groups, shelters, abuse hotlines, women’s clinics, school resource officers, victim advocate organizations, etc. to offer the military family victims of domestic violence an all-round intervention. They must also know how to file for a restraining order, police report, or child endangerment report with relevant authorities (In Lockhart & In Danis, 2010).

Storytelling and self-care also give victims the opportunity to tell their story during counselling sessions, a critical element of healing and feeling validated. Trauma-focused approaches such as dealing with stress, developing coping resources, relaxation, self-care, goal-setting and self-reflection, as well as journaling can also help victims overcome their traumatic experiences (Your Military Family Network, 2008). The approaches can help the victim recreate their identity based on their personal terms. With social support, they can rebuild their relationships with family members and friends with whom they may have lost contact during the period of abuse. Cognitive behavior therapy can help victims change their beliefs about relationships and interpersonal issues. Some victims perceive abuse as normal and the only way to solve issues. Asking the right questions can help uncover the victim’s perception of abuse and help reshape it to what it is right. CBT can help them fight negative thoughts and learn how to calm down and cope with anger, sadness or anxiety positively (Lawhorne & Philpott, 2013).

Counsellors must not make assumptions. They should also factor in the victim’s abuse histories during diagnosis. It is also important to treat the entire military family, not just the victim of abuse. It would help focus on relationship behaviors and patterns that require addressing. Children and parents should also be counseled differently to help the young ones understand what their parents are going through without being judgmental. Each family member’s history must be assessed, including past traumatic experiences, mental health, addiction and legal problems to better understand their behavior and where they are coming from. The goal of the various interventions is to stabilize the family and the couple involved in abuse. After successful treatment, anything can happen. For instance a child in foster care can return home (Milner, 2015).

Military and Community Resources

Military family victims of domestic violence have many resources at their disposal to help them find help. They have access to restricted and unrestricted reporting options, the Family Advocacy Program (for emergency medical care, legal, shelter and counselling services; safety plan creation, transitional compensation, counselling services and help getting a military restraining or protective order), the National Domestic Violence Hotline (for safety planning, crisis intervention, referral to local service providers, access to information on domestic violence and assistance I over 140 languages), Military and Family Life Counsellors (for access to licensed psychologists and clinical social workers), New Parent Support Program for military families with children, Victim Advocacy Program for access to support including crisis intervention and Transitional Compensation Program for abused dependents. The U.S Army Family Advocacy Program helps with resiliency and intervention through workshops and seminars to improve victim’s quality of life (Stark, 2011).

Biblical/Spiritual Principles and Guidelines

The Bible has a lot of teachings on domestic violence with guidelines on how a man and a woman should live as a husband and a wife. According to the Bible, domestic violence is an offence against humanity and God himself. The scripture associates violence with wickedness, condemning it as “detestable to the Lord” (Proverbs 3 & 10, Psalm 11). Rape and pressuring women into sex is equivalent to murder in Jewish law (Deut 22:25-29). It is an extreme act that violates God’s teachings; the Bible mentions the rape of Tamar, Dinah, the Bethlehem woman, among other accounts of abuse. It also teaches against oppression. Jesus teaches people to develop peaceful relationships without violence. The Bible teaches women to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives as He loves the church without subjecting them to any form of abuse. And, there is nothing inferior about a wife submitting to the husband. Even the husband as the head of the family, must treat the wife with a lot of love. The Bible teaches against abuse and women are allowed to leave such marriages with support of the church. It also talks about forgiveness as part of healing, even in the absence of reconciliation (Milner, 2015).

Strengths and Limitations a Trained Resiliency Counsellor Brings to a Military Family Dealing with Domestic Violence

Trained resiliency counsellors help military family victims of domestic violence in many ways. They address the issue of domestic violence with competency and grace due to its complexity. They help victims overcome anxiety, self-esteem, financial problems, challenges with relationships, and even find work. They understand that domestic violence can affect a victim’s mental health and thus accord them the necessary help. They also know that no two cases of domestic violence are the same. Therefore, the counsellor tailor treatment approaches based on each victim’s specific symptoms and experiences. They also offer help for the violence victim, the perpetrator and even witnesses who, in most cases, are children (Stark, 2011).

The counsellors also tend to intimate partner violence survivors who have moved on, but still experience the effect of the trauma such as flashbacks or nightmares. They help domestic violence victims and survivors to feel good about themselves even in the face of the adversity or their negative feelings. They can recover and engage in happy relationships and live happy lives despite their horrific experience in the past. They are strong and resourceful enough to have overcome their adversities. Counsellors also help victims recognize that they are being abused because some take verbal, psychological and other non-physical forms of abuse as normal. They develop strong relationships with the victims to enable them open up about their abusive experiences without feeling guilt, embarrassed, fearful, ashamed or worrying about what the counsellor will think about them (Taft et al., 2016).

They use the right words that do not hurt the feelings of victims, especially if they are unaware of being abused. They help them recognize the existence of an abuse without telling them. The professional can use intimidation, threats and coercion, economic abuse, isolation, denying, blaming, emotional abuse and minimizing to help victims recognize that they are being abused. The victim’s beliefs are only challenged using open-ended questions after the counsellor ascertains that their client has recognized abuse in their relationships. The professionals must be patient with victims during treatment and only move forward at their pace even when in disagreement. They also help domestic violence victims understand the differences between domestic violence or any other form of abuse and healthy relationships. However, it is possible for the counsellors and other mental health professionals, including the general public to marginalize domestic violence victims. Sometimes, they do not believe their abuse stories or take them seriously (WALSH, 2018).


Various stressors explain military life and its impact on veterans and their families. Mental health professionals are only beginning to understand these stressors. Military families, just like any other, experience domestic violence among other forms of abuse. Various resources have been put in place to help victims of abuse overcome their traumatic experiences. Ranging from cognitive behavioral therapy to mindfulness therapy, victims have access to various interventions. There are also programs in place to help them access medical care, counselling, shelter and other services. Counsellors also help them develop resiliency to overcome their traumatic experiences and begin living happier lives. Counseling is not just offered to the victims, but their entire families. Trained resiliency counsellors have so much to bring on the table to help military family victims of violence. For instance, they help them recognize that they are under abuse and teach them to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Victims of domestic violence can overcome their horrific experience and live happy lives. All they need is counselling and support from their friends and family.


Buchanan, D. R., Fisher, C. B., Gable, L., & American Psychological Association. (2009). Research with high-risk populations: Balancing science, ethics, and law. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence. (n.d.).

Gewirtz, A. H., & Youssef, A. M. (2016). Parenting and Children’s Resilience in Military Families. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Johnson, M. P. (2008). A typology of domestic violence: Intimate terrorism, violent resistance, and situational couple violence. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

In Lockhart, L. L., & In Danis, F. S. (2010). Domestic violence: Intersectionality and culturally competent practice.

Lawhorne, S. C., & Philpott, D. (2013). Military mental health care: A guide for service members, veterans, families, and community.

Milner, J. S. (2015). Child maltreatment in United States military families: The military Family Advocacy Program has given increased attention to the prevention of family violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 47, 102-113.

Stark, S. (2011). Victims of Abuse, An Issue of Nursing Clinics – E-Book.

Taft, C. T., Murphy, C. M., & Creech, S. K. (2016). Trauma-informed treatment and prevention of intimate partner violence.

WALSH, D. E. B. O. R. A. H. (2018). WORKING WITH DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Contexts and frameworks for practice. S.l.: ROUTLEDGE.

Your military family network: Your connection to military friendly resources, benefits, information, businesses and advice. (2008). Sterling, Va: Capital Books.

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