Understanding male motivation for domestic or intimate partner violence is a vital component within the logic of change for reducing the incidence of abuse. This paper analyses male justifications for domestic violence using data from the Malawi 2015 Demographic and Health Survey. Five justifications for wife beating are recorded in the male survey, and we define agreement with any indicator as indicative of a justification of wife beating. Binary logistic regression is used to link both attitudinal and behavioural factors (alcohol consumption) to women’s reports of wife beating. Male justification is only weakly related to the actual incidence of violence within the relationship: there is no association between attitudinal justification of wife beating and reported violence even in the absence of control variables. On the other hand, alcohol utilisation is strongly associated with the incidence of violence and is robust to controls. This suggests that directly targeting males through interventions designed to change attitude may have only limited success in reducing the incidence of intimate partner violence, and that behavioural change in the form of an anti-alcohol strategy would be a more productive intervention.