Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Trajectories of Physical and Emotional Marital Aggression in Midlife Couples

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Trajectories of Physical and Emotional Marital Aggression in Midlife Couples

Article excerpt

This study used three-level generalized hierarchical linear modeling to examine trajectories of husbands' and wives' physical and emotional aggression over three assessments and the effects of years since marriage. In this community sample of 118 couples, physical aggression significantly decreased over time (43% per year). Emotional aggression did not significantly change over time, but trajectories significantly differed for husbands (3% increase) versus wives (10% decrease). Longer-duration marriages had lower physical aggression and, for wives only, lower emotional aggression. Aggression trajectories showed considerable variability: 44%-55% of physically aggressive spouses desisted from one assessment to the next; 5%-12% reported start-ups in physical aggression. Discussion addresses the role of gender and type of aggression in aggression trajectories.

Keywords: intimate partner violence; psychological aggression; spousal abuse; growth curve analysis; longitudinal change

Data on the prevalence, incidence, and seriousness of intimate partner violence call attention to the importance of understanding trajectories of partner violence. Estimates indicate that 25% of women and 8% of men are physically assaulted or raped by an intimate partner at some time during their life (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Other samples reveal that as many as 21% of couples report intimate physical aggression each year (McDonald, Jouriles, Ramisetty-Mikler, Caetano, & Green, 2006). Research has shown that intimate relationship aggression has deleterious mental and physical health consequences for women (Bonomi et al., 2006; Coker et al., 2002; Loxton, Schofield, & Hussain, 2006), as well as some negative health consequences for men (Coker et al., 2002; Simonelli & Ingram, 1998; Taft et al., 2006). Assessments of intimate physical aggression based on lifetime incidence or 12-month prevalence data fail to capture the variability in partner aggression across time, particularly for couples in long-term relationships. The present study examined husbands' and wives' use of relationship aggression over three time points, providing information about the stability and trajectory of aggression, while calling attention to the potential fallibility of defining a couple as aggressive based on one time point. The study also examines the impact of years since marriage on aggression trajectories, thereby accounting for stage in relationship development on aggression.

Although female victims are often the focus of intimate violence research, the considerable rates of aggression towards men (e.g., Archer, 2000) suggest the need to evaluate both male and female aggression. Clearly women suffer more severe consequences due to partner aggression (Archer, 2000; Holtzworth-Munroe, Smutzler, & Bates, 1997) and the context of and motivations for female-perpetrated aggression may be different (Swan & Snow, 2006); however, considering both partners' aggression allows for a more complete understanding of dysfunction in the relationship system, especially because aggression may be an interactive and synergistic phenomenon for some couples (Vivian & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 1994). Temple, Weston, and Marshall (2005), for example, found that aggression is more severe and frequent in relationships where both partners are aggressive. Johnson (2006) distinguishes intimate terrorism (i.e., partner battering, including violence and control) from situational, common couple violence, which is characterized by low-level, bidirectional aggression, often resulting from breakdowns in communication or arguments getting out of control. This distinction theoretically contextualizes aggression in community samples (typically situational couple violence) in relation to more traditional notions of domestic violence (i.e., intimate terrorism) and underscores the importance of examining both husband and wife aggression.

This article will also examine emotional or psychological aggression, which some women have reported being even more upsetting than physical abuse they have experienced (Follingstad, Rutledge, Berg, Hause, & Polek, 1990), which causes harm, even in the absence of physical aggression (Marshal, 1996; Pico-Alfonso et al. …

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