In the intricate web of domestic violence, two distinct archetypes emerge—Cobras and Pit Bulls—crafted from the findings of extensive research conducted by Neil Jacobson, Ph.D., and John Gottman, Ph.D. Their groundbreaking work, chronicled in "When Men Batter Women," delves deep into the complex psychology and behaviors of abusive husbands. These men, though a minority, wield a significant and often deadly impact within their abusive relationships. This post focuses on the Cobra Husband, as the Antisocial offender.

Cobra Husbands

There are two distinct types of men who physically and emotionally abuse their wives. According to Neil Jacobson, Ph.D. and John Gottman, Ph.D., authors of the book, When Men Batter Women (Simon and Schuster, 1998). In this important and ground-breaking research, Drs. Gottman and Jacobson found there were two distinct types of batterers which they named "Cobras" and "Pit Bulls."

Their research followed 63 couples with a history of battering and contrasted them with other couples who were also unhappily married but were not violent. The same couples were again interviewed at the conclusion of the study two years later.

Spousal rape and alcohol or drug addiction were two behaviors that were a force multiplier for risk of violence. Surprisingly, only 6 percent of batterers faced legal consequences for their actions.

Many wives trapped in DV households are afraid to report abuse. Some wives didn't even realize what their husbands were doing to them was a crime.

Cobras are 20% of the men who commit domestic violence. Although they are a smaller group, they are, by far the most deadly. 20% of these Cobras followed in the study had threatened their wives with guns or knives compared to only 4% of the "Pit Bulls."

Who are the Cobra Husbands?

Gottman and Jacobsen discovered that over 90% - were diagnosed with anti-social personality disorders. In other words, "dangerous bad guys."

These men are selfish and operate with no sense of responsibility or empathy. They were typically aggressive outside the home also.

When we discussed Pit bulls, we learned that Pitbulls confine their violent outbursts to their wives.

Unlike Pit bulls, Cobras can very much take or leave their wives. They are not strongly attached, except to the direct benefits their wives provide them. They prefer solitude, often for large blocks of time. They occasionally pester their wives for sex, drugs, or money.

Pit Bulls, by contrast, are profoundly insecure and hyper-focused on their wives. Their driving fear was to be abandoned but their empty neediness was inconsolable. 

Physical abuse serves vastly different strategies for Cobras and Pit bulls. Cobras are power focused. They seek to control their wives and act independently of them, Pit Bulls employ violence on their wives so as not to be abandoned.

At the end of the study, the starkest difference between the two groups became evident. In their two-year follow-up after the study, Jacobson and Gottman learned that half of the wives of Pit Bulls had divorced their husbands but none of the Cobras' wives had left for two reasons.

Cobras were more difficult to leave because they were more violent. On a pragmatic note, it was also true that the Pit Bulls' diligence in spying also made leaving more difficult.

There is a very different issue on the politics of leaving these men. While If it was more initially difficult to leave a Cobra at first, it often became easier over time. Cobras typically detach from their wives and find other partners.

By contrast, over time, the Pit bull becomes "The Thing that Wouldn't Leave." They just won't let go easily. They brood, sulk and often stalk.

Domestic Violence is a serious problem. It can not be addressed adequately in couples therapy because it is stubbornly resistant to treatment. Recovery for Pitbulls is usually found in court-ordered group "Responsibility Therapy."

Relief for Cobras is typically found in charming a fresh new partner into his life.


Unveiling the contrasting personas of Cobras and Pit Bulls offers a sobering insight into the harrowing dynamics within abusive relationships. While these classifications shed light on distinct patterns of behavior, they also underline the stubborn resilience of domestic violence, resisting conventional therapeutic approaches.

For Pit Bulls, the path toward recovery often lies in court-ordered interventions, whereas while the Cobras can easily kill you without guilt, they are also less likely to stalk after they have moved on to a new partners. Understanding these archetypes serves as a crucial step in acknowledging the intricate nuances of domestic abuse and the daunting challenges faced by those ensnared within its suffocating grasp.

Read more about Pit Bulls.

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Dr. Kathy McMahon

Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

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  1. Is there anything you’ve read that is particularly helpful in treating recovery from infidelity. As a practitioner, I experience a wariness that can easily result in worsening an injury from the breach.

  2. Who are the Cobra WIVES?

    Cobras come by their behavior honestly. Gottman and Jacobsen discovered that over 90% – were diagnosed with anti-social personality disorders.

    Do females with anti-social PD exist in your world?
    How about Gottmans?
    Why no articles?

  3. Need to do a segment on Cobra WIVES. They are real and exponentially growing in number. I fear for our sons! My oldest has suffered such venom.

    1. The gender bias is real. Every article on this site is colored with the demographic bias of your clientele. Family minded women married to financially successful men.

      Cobra women don’t seek your services or seek to improve their families.
      Since according to the research,
      women stay with Cobra men, Of the >75% of divorces initiated by women how many of those women do you think are Cobras that have found a fresh new partner- aka hypergamy- from their short sighted lack of impulse control P.O.V?
      When more than 75% of women don’t care about their children’s future/ family unit…
      This article appears to be an argument for men to behave in the Cobra paradigm.


      1. “…none of the Cobras’ wives had left…Cobras were more difficult to leave because they were more violent.

        Cobra men are often violent in general, in all areas of their lives. They are often, as a result, in lower SES, although not always. Many end up in prison. And you are correct, marriage counseling is NEVER a place for a woman married to a Cobra man. She needs to work with an individual therapist to help her develop a safety plan, should she be forced to flee for her life and the lives of her children. Gottman is very clear that the only effective “treatment” he recommends with Cobra is jailtime. No, we would never recommend that men act like violent sociopaths both in the home or out. Again, you write to us frequently on this blog, ndbbm, but I’m still not seeing the gender bias you keep repeatedly insisting exists here.

        Dr. K

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