Gottman and Jacobson's key discovery is that there are two different types of batterer. The men in one group, who are referred to as Cobras, become inwardly calm during heated arguments, their heart rate lowering. They are sadistic, antisocial, emotionally detached from their wives and outwardly furious from the first moment of conflict. Pit Bulls, in contrast, are attached to their wives to the point of paranoia. Their heart rate increases during arguments and their anger builds up gradually. The characterists of the two types have not been described before and are vital to understanding the dynamic of violent behaviour in marriages, because they react very differently in similar situations. Powerful and moving case studies appear throughout, following couples over a period of years. Emerging from Hell explores the effectiveness of treating batterers. Gottman and Jacobson advocate, in addition to theapy, a custodial sentencing - otherwise batterers feel that society is sanctioning their behaviour. Hardly any other study has gone on so long, enabling an accurate assessment of treatment.
Ultimatley the battered women are the heroines of the book, frequently coming across as resourceful and brave under horrific circumstances. The forces driving them to leave their partners and possible ways of helping them are discussed in detail.