Generalized versus Spouse-Specific Anger/Hostility and Men's Violence against Intimates

By Boyle, Douglas J.; Vivian, Dina | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

Generalized versus Spouse-Specific Anger/Hostility and Men's Violence against Intimates


Boyle, Douglas J., Vivian, Dina, Violence and Victims


The present study examined the extent to which generalized versus spouse-specific anger/hostility was associated with partner violence in 263 men seeking conjoint marital therapy. Clinic men were classified as nonviolent (NV), moderately violent (MV), and severely violent (SV). A community comparison group of relationship-satisfied, nonviolent men (CO) was also included. All clinic men reported higher levels of generalized and spouse-specific anger, spouse-specific aggression/hostility, depressive symptomatology and lower spouse-specific assertiveness than community men. SV men reported higher levels of spouse-specific anger/hostility, relationship discord, depressive symptomatology, and lower general problem-solving ability than NV men. Regression analyses confirmed that spouse-specific anger/hostility, low problem-solving ability, and relationship discord were significant predictors of men's violence. Overall, generalized anger and hostility were not unique predictors of men's violence against intimates.

The extent of violence in the context of intimate relationships has been well documented. In a nationally representative sample, one out of six couples reported couple violence during the prior year (Straus & Gelles, 1990). In a sample seeking marital therapy, 71% of couples reported physical violence in their relationships during the prior year (Cascardi, Langhinrichsen, & Vivian, 1992). These and similar findings have prompted extensive research efforts aimed at understanding the phenomenon of violence in intimate relationships. Further, given that women are at much greater risk for being severely abused in an intimate relationship (e.g., Dobash & Dobash, 1979) and for suffering serious injuries and negative psychological consequences as a result of partner violence (e.g., Brush, 1990; Cantos, Neidig, & O'Leary, 1994; Cascardi et al., 1992; Schwartz, 1987; Stets & Straus, 1990), particular focus has been placed on identifying characteristics of violent men that can be addressed in wife abuse treatment programs. One variable that has recently prompted significant interest is the extent to which violent men exhibit more generalized anger and hostility than nonviolent men. The focus of the present investigation is to explore generalized anger/hostility, as well as spouse-specific anger/hostility, and the relationship of both to intimate violence.

Etiological models of relationship violence are inconsistent regarding the role of male anger in provoking violent behavior against intimates. On the one hand, psychological models of violence in intimate relationships, such as social-learning and cognitive-behavioral models, often stress the importance of negative affect, and in particular anger, in predicting marital violence (e.g., Dutton, 1995; Hamberger & Lohr, 1989; O'Leary, 1993). On the other hand, sociological models, such as conflict theory and feminist sociopolitical models, generally emphasize structural factors rather than individual characteristics (e.g., Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Straus, 1993).

While theoretical accounts vary in the emphasis placed on anger, clinicians are moderately consistent in emphasizing the role of anger in intimate violence. In fact, anger control training is a component of many domestic violence treatment programs representing diverse theoretical orientations. Cognitive-behavioral programs, for example, traditionally include anger management training (Neidig & Friedman, 1984; Saunders, 1989). Similarly, family systems (e.g., Geffner, Mantooth, Franks, & Rao, 1989) and eclectic (e.g., Ganley, 1989; Rosenbaum & Maiuro, 1989) treatment programs typically target anger. These programs often teach anger management through techniques such as emotion-awareness training, cognitive restructuring, communication training, and relaxation training.

Criticism of the Focus on Anger

Some researchers and theorists have criticized the prominent role assigned to anger management by domestic violence treatment programs.

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