Using complexity science to examine three dynamic patterns of intimate partner violence

Sandra K. Burge, David A. Katerndahl, Robert C. Wood, Johanna Becho, Robert L. Ferrer, Melissa Talamantes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Introduction: The partner violence literature describes 3 dominant models of dynamics of partner aggression: cycle of violence, family systems theory, and Duluth model (power and control wheel). Complexity science describes 3 patterns of system dynamics: periodic, chaotic, and random. Are these parallel patterns? In this analysis, investigators calculated dynamic patterns (periodic, chaotic, and random) using 84 daily reports of male-to-female aggression and assessed the "fit" between time-series-derived patterns of male partners' violent behaviors and literature-based models of violence dynamics. Method: Participants were 200 women in moderately violent intimate relationships who completed a telephone survey about their relationships every day for 12 weeks. They also completed baseline and end-of-study surveys and maintained telephone contact with the study team weekly. Of 200 participants, 135 women provided enough data to be assigned to period, chaotic, or random groups. Results: Group membership included 16 women in periodic, 40 in chaotic, and 79 in random groups. Consistent with the cycle of violence, periodic women found violence to be predictable and controllable. Consistent with the Duluth model, women in the random group found violence to be unpredictable and out of their control, occurring with high frequency. The chaotic group had the lowest frequency and severity of violence, lowest stress and arguments, and the highest marital satisfaction. Discussion: The most common dynamic pattern in partner violence is random, which exhibits high frequency and unpredictability of aggression. Complexity science suggests interventions in random systems have unpredictable outcomes, posing great challenges for clinicians who work with victims of violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-14
Number of pages11
JournalFamilies, Systems and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Battered women
  • Domestic violence
  • Longitudinal studies
  • Nonlinear dynamics
  • Spouse abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology


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