When people think of mutual combat, they often wonder who is "the batterer" and who is "the victim"? While this is a complex issue, it actually can be managed with some brief interviewing and basic observation. Marrujo and Kreger (1996) offer that interviewing should include:

  • how fights start and how often they occur,
  • who sustains the more serious injuries,
  • who has motives stemming from revenge, jealousy, or control,
  • who feels the least responsibility for the violence,
  • who has anger-control problems outside the home

This basic information can help clarify the roles of the partners.

Determining Mutual Combat

Marrujo and Kreger (1996) and Fox (1999) offer a number of points from their research of battering in gay and lesbian relationships:

BatterersMutual CombatantsVictims
High Jealousy and ControlSome Jealousy and Selective ControlLittle Jealousy or Control
High Intrusion into Partner ActivitiesSelective Intrusion into Partner ActivitiesLittle Intrusion if any into Partner Activities
High Anger and Rage, and Anger Problems Outside the HomeMinor Problems with Anger and Anger Outside the HomeAnger Turned Inward (Depression) and No Problems with Anger Outside the Home
Feelings of EntitlementSome EntitlementNo Entitlement
Feelings of Blamelessness and AdequacyAccepts Some Responsibility but not All ResponsibilityAccepts All Responsibility and Feels Inadequate
Clarity on the Details of the Fight, and Claims of VictimizationSome ClarityMostly Confusion on How Matters Escalated, Unsure about Victimization
More Likely to "Cross The Line" First and Initiate the FightMay or May Not InitiateUnlikely to Initiate, Violent only in Self-Defense

Fox (1999) cautions that you should "tone down" the powerful language like "domestic violence" and "abusive relationships," and instead ask about experiences of being hit, kicked, punched.... feelings of fear and anxiety... and keep checking on these questions and their answers regularly. Assessing for violence and the roles each partner plays may also entail assessing any risk of harm to children in the home (which may entail a mandated report to authorities), the presence of a weapon in the home (Holtzworth-Munroe et al, 1995) and the presence of a substance abuse or impulse control disorder that requires individual treatment.