Relationships among Marital Investment, Marital Satisfaction, and Marital Commitment in Domestically Victimized and Nonvictimized Wives

Article excerpt

The present investigation examined the association between marital investment, marital satisfaction, and commitment to marriage among physically abused women. We applied an investment model and a social learning model to understanding victimized wives' satisfaction and commitment to stay married. Thirty wives who reported physical abuse and 58 nonabused wives completed measures of marital stability, investment in marital problem solving, and dyadic adjustment. Investment in marital problem solving was assessed by having subjects indicate how much energy that they have put into solving 34 common marital problems and whether their efforts were successful or not successful. Consistent with a social learning model but counter to an investment perspective, correlational and multiple regression analyses for each group revealed that failed investment was significantly related to lower, not greater, commitment. Group differences also emerged. Whereas nonabused wives' commitment was related to their dyadic adjustment abused wives' commitment was related to their level of failed investment. Results are consistent with the notion that women may remain in abusive relationships because of psychological entrapment.

Marital violence, which has been estimated to occur in 30-60% of all couples (Straus, 1978), is a widespread social problem with frightening results - nearly 1,700 women die yearly as a result (Strube, 1988). Although much of the mounting research on this topic has focused on identifying risk factors of abusers or victims for first-time or repeat incidences of violence (e.g., Arias, 1988), attention also has been given to understanding the woman's decision to remain in the relationship once violence has begun (Strube, 1988). This understanding is particularly important given the evidence that many women stay married to their abusers and continue to live with them. Until we understand the factors that influence this decision process, our prevention efforts are likely to fall short of their goals. Shelters seem to provide only a short term solution. Estimated return rates for women residing at shelters range from about 20-60% (e.g., Giles-Sims, 1983; Stone, 1984; Walker, 1983), with one study reporting that 62% of those who returned to their partners were beaten again (Giles-Sims, 1983). Clearly, these alarming statistics represent an unsatisfactory outcome. Further efforts, however, may be no more encouraging until we better comprehend the reasons for remaining in abusive relationships, or alternatively, the obstacles which prevent women from leaving these relationships. As a call-to-arms on this issue, Strube (1988) argues soundly for the need to conduct further research on the decision-to-stay process by testing existing theoretical models of commitment.

Rusbult's (1980,1983) investment model and a social learning/exchange model (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978) were recognized by Strube as two models of commitment that have potential applicability to spouse abuse. Rusbult's model, which draws on social exchange theory, has been applied to college dating relationships, adult romantic couples, homosexual relationships, and commitment in the area of work, but not domestic violence (Strube, 1988). Both models are based on the notion that willingness to stay in a relationship depends on a comparison of the costs and benefits of the current relationship with alternative relationships. Although neither model has been tested with an abused sample, both provide adequate means for making testable propositions about commitment in a violent relationship.

Rusbult's Investment Theory

Rusbult (1980,1983) presented an "investment" model of commitment in which commitment is defined as a positive function of anticipated relationship satisfaction, a negative function of the attractiveness of perceived alternatives, and a positive function of the amount invested in the relationship. Since it is assumed by Rusbult that current relationship satisfaction is a function of rewards and costs, the model suggests that one's willingness to stay in a relationship (i. …