Exploring how Men with Children Experience Bi-directional Intimate Partner Aggression (IPA) and Help-seeking
This qualitative study investigated how men who lived with their female partner and children experienced bi-directional intimate partner aggression (IPA) and help-seeking in their relationships in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ). Semi structured interviews with 13 men who had disclosed living with bi-directional IPA were analysed by taking an inductive, semantic, and realist/essentialist approach to reflexive thematic analysis. Five themes were identified that related to the men’s experiences of IPA and help-seeking. The first theme identified the cycle of bi-directional aggression and comprised four subthemes: 1) unstable relationship foundations, 2) the build-up, 3) caught up in the challenge, and 4) point of de-escalation. Second, the impact of gender roles on bi-directional aggression was identified and comprised three subthemes: 1) gendered norms shape men’s aggression, 2) response to incongruence in gender roles, and 3) female resourcefulness. The third theme described how the maintenance of the abusive relationship was enabled and consisted of four subthemes: 1) misinformed perspective of IPA, 2) denial and normalisation of IPA, 3) attachment to children kept men stuck, and 4) barriers to accessing services. The multi-layered impact of the abusive relationship was described in the fourth theme and comprised three subthemes: 1) negative psychological impact on men, 2) awareness of impact on partner, and 3) children caught in the crossfire. The power of positive help-seeking was identified in the final theme which comprised two subthemes: 1) facilitators to seeking help, and 2) making positive changes. Collectively the findings show how bi-directional aggression perpetuates over time and how the lack of individual and professional understanding can impact men’s help-seeking and maintenance of the aggression. The need for research, policy, and practice to address this common form of IPA is discussed, specifically with regards to how society conceptualises IPA and the importance of providing education on the nature of bi-directional aggression.