A new kind of intervention program that focuses on the perpetrator of domestic abuse, rather than the victim, has shown promising results and could be used to deal with domestic violence in a better way.

According to estimates, one in every four women will suffer from a domestic violence incident at least once in her lifetime. 

"There is a lot of research that studies the victim of intimate partner violence, but not the perpetrator. The predominant model for IPV intervention is based on what was gleaned from women in battered women shelters and focuses on men’s patriarchal attitudes about power and control," said Julia Babcock, an associate professor at the department of Psychology, University of Houston.

For the study, researchers recruited 120 couples. All the couples reported that they've had at least two incidents of domestic violence (slapping, hitting, shoving or pushing) in the past year. People who were having problems in their marriage that did not fit in the description of domestic violence were kept as a comparison group.

All the participants were observed by researchers as they had a 15-minute argument in a lab setting. Couples were hooked on to monitors that measured their heart rate, skin conductance, respiration and pulse.

Researchers interrupted the argument midway (seven and a half minutes) and randomly assigned the male partner to one of these conditions- a timeout, giving the other person a chance to talk or a request to edit and make the same argument in a more neutral manner.

They found that equipping the batterers with better communication skills enables the argument to occur without any violence.

“What we found is that the interventions worked to make the second half of the argument better. Batterers could learn these communication skills and when they applied them in arguments with their female partner, it decreased aggressive attacks on the female partner, contemptuous behavior, criticism and put downs in both the woman and the man. The idea is that reducing such psychological abuse may reduce intimate partner violence. Whereas most therapies are built top down from theory, the new technology allows us to build a therapy package--technique by technique--from the lab up," said Babcock.

In the US, more than $4 billion is spent each year on the treatment of domestic violence victims, estimates say.