Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Relationship Duration & Social Power: Understanding Patterns of Verbal Aggression Use among Young Adult Romantic Partners

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Relationship Duration & Social Power: Understanding Patterns of Verbal Aggression Use among Young Adult Romantic Partners

Article excerpt

This study addresses the use of verbal aggression among young adult romantic partners, an important societal phenomenon that is likely to be under-reported and overlooked (Kowalski, 2001). Extensive work documents the occurrence of interpersonal violence in young adult dating relationships, highlighting personal, situational, and contextual factors that contribute to this phenomenon (Luthra & Gidycz, 2006), but doesn't address how message sequences may interact with relationship factors to prompt use of aggression. To extend this work, the current study investigated the association of relationship duration and social power on message sequences involving verbal aggression. Two hypothetical dyadic conversations that involved overcoming partner resistance to a request for intimacy (emotional or physical) were designed as a within subjects variable to identify how verbal aggression is used among romantic partners, and to investigate if a shift from non-aggressive to aggressive message use is illustrated. The prevalent use of aggressive messages in interpersonal relationships (Gortner, Gollan, & Jacobsen, 1997) desensitizes individuals to their powerfully negative affect (Kowalski, 2001; Ney, 1987). The use of verbal aggression harms individuals via decreased well-being (Kinney, 2003; Marshall, 1994; Ney, 1987; Savin-Williams, 1994) and their relationships via decreased satisfaction, closeness, and commitment among partners (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Vangelisti, 2002). For these reasons, the use of verbal aggression in interpersonal relationships warrants further investigation through a communication paradigm to identify factors that contribute to its prevalence and use.

On a global scale, verbal aggression has been identified as a contributor to the worldwide epidemic rates of interpersonal violence, due to the fact that it is a documented antecedent when physical aggression occurs (Krug, Dahlberg, Mercy, Zwi, & Lozano, 2002; Leonard & Senchak, 1996). The damage of physical aggression is often visible and tangible in ways that can be verified after it is inflicted. In comparison, messages communicated with hurtful intentions are often intangible, difficult to verify, and problematic to investigate. While physical forms of interpersonal violence are socially sanctioned by law in many countries, verbal forms of aggression are not (Morgan & Wilson, 2005); leaving aggressive messages often understudied (Kowalski, 2001). Interactions in which relationship partners are communicating needs and desires are optimal settings to investigate use of verbal aggression (Buss, Gomes, Higgins, & Lauterbach, 1987; Spitzberg, 1998), especially when goals are unexpectedly thwarted by romantic partners (Cvancara, 2009; Lim 1990). For example, when an individual makes a request that they clearly anticipate will be granted and in response the partner refuses, the individual must either give up their request or communicate further to obtain it. Research illustrates that negotiations for intimacy are often composed of interactions that result in feelings of frustration and use of aggression (Affifi & Lee, 2000; Metts, Cupach, & Imahori, 1992; Spitzberg, 1998). However, research does not address what relationship factors may exacerbate an individual's tendency to use aggressive messages, nor is it understood how messages escalate from non-aggressive to aggressive in nature. The current study investigated relationship duration and perceived social power as relevant factors associated with use of verbal aggression due to their influence on the interaction dynamic, on individual cognitions, and on communication behavior overtime.

Communication Responses to Romantic Partner Resistance One of the most common goals sought between close relationship partners involves the pursuit of intimacy. Examples of close relationships investigated to study the harmful effects of verbal aggression include families (Cahn & Lloyd, 1996; Morgan & Wilson, 2005; Sabourin, 1996), siblings (Myers & Goodboy, 2006), college friendships (Lento, 2006), and romantic dyads (Cvancara & Kinney, 2009; Spitzberg, 1998; Vangelisti, Maguire, Alexander, & Clark, 2007). …

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