Photographs which appear to show Charles Saatchi grabbing his wife Nigella Lawson's throat were the result of a "playful tiff", he said.
The millionaire art collector said he was holding the broadcaster and cook by the neck "to emphasise my point" as they discussed family, he told London's Evening Standard newspaper.
The police are looking into the pictures - which Saatchi admitted looked "horrific" - taken outside a London restaurant last week and which have been widely published.
Lawson appears to be grimacing in the images taken outside Scott's in Mayfair.
But Saatchi, a former ad executive who has built up a colossal private art collection which he displays at his own gallery, said: "About a week ago, we were sitting outside a restaurant having an intense debate about the children, and I held Nigella's neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise my point.
"There was no grip, it was a playful tiff. The pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place. Nigella's tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt. We had made up by the time we were home. The paparazzi were congregated outside our house after the story broke yesterday morning, so I told Nigella to take the kids off till the dust settled."
There was no sign of the pair earlier at their west London home or at Saatchi's gallery, a few minutes walk away in Chelsea's King's Road. Lawson left the family home - in a multimillion-pound converted factory - with her son on Sunday.
Staff said Saatchi was not expected at the modern art gallery, which bears his name, for the launch of a new exhibition. He is notoriously publicity-shy and was not even at the opening night in 2003 of his previous gallery on the Southbank, which was attended by some of the art world's biggest names.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said it was aware of the pictures, which were published in the Sunday People, and said no one had made any complaint to the police.
Lawson married Saatchi, who made his name in advertising, in 2003. She has two children, Cosima and Bruno, from her marriage to journalist John Diamond, who died of throat cancer in 2001.