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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 5

Wrath: How Intimacy Can Breed Violence

Intimacy spawns strong emotions, which can erupt in violence when self-control fails

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Tina Turner, the “Queen of Rock,” rose to fame in the 1960s as half of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. The singer, whom Rolling Stone once called one of the greatest of all time, was also, unfortunately, well known as a victim of domestic violence. Ike Turner was not only her musical partner but also her husband, and she suffered frequent and severe abuse at his hands. In 1976, while he slept, she crept out of their hotel room carrying only 36 cents and a gas card, fearfully shuttling from one friend's house to another's to escape him. After filing for divorce, she was so eager to be free of his terrorizing reign that she let him keep virtually all of their shared assets.

The brand of brutality that Turner endured, which sociologist Michael P. Johnson of Pennsylvania State University calls intimate terrorism, stems from a desire to establish power and control in a relationship. The resulting violence is frequently one-sided—predominantly perpetrated by men—and prone to escalate over time. Less widely recognized, however, is a form of domestic wrath known as situational couple violence, which is mutual and emerges from relationship conflict that gets out of hand. For example, the late singer Amy Winehouse and Blake Fielder-Civil reportedly shared an intense love, and their passion intermittently boiled over into mutual violence. In 2007 guests at the hotel where the couple was staying reported hearing crashing furniture and screaming coming from their suite, and both partners emerged from the fight bruised and bloodied. Yet the next day the pair strolled arm in arm, publicly displaying affection. When they finally parted ways two years later, Winehouse said, “I won't let him divorce me … he's the male version of me, and we're perfect for each other.”

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