Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Control, Coping, and Victimization in Dating Relationships

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Control, Coping, and Victimization in Dating Relationships

Article excerpt

This study examined the role of perceived control and coping in mediating the relationship between violent and nonviolent negative relationship events and women's experience of distress. Results based on the responses of 48 victims of dating relationship violence and 74 nonvictims indicated that perceived control was negatively related to distress for victims but not nonvictims. While both victims and nonvictims engaged in both problem- and emotion-focused coping, and different patterns of coping emerged for the two groups, appraisals of control were not related to choice of coping strategies for violent or nonviolent negative relationship events. Psychological distress was not significantly predicted by coping strategies or the interaction of control and coping for either type of event or for either group. These results suggest that control appraisals may be particularly important in reducing distress for victims. However, appraisals of perceived control may place them at increased risk for abuse in the long run, as victims are unlikely to be able to control the violence as it escalates in both severity and frequency over time.

In recent years the attention of researchers has increasingly focused on violence between intimates as an important social issue. While a proliferation of studies examining marital violence has been reported, comparatively little attention has focused on courtship violence. This appears particularly surprising given incidence rates of 20%-30% (Arias, Samios, & O'Leary, 1987; Gate, Henton, Koval, Christopher, & Lloyd, 1982; Makepeace, 1981, 1983) and victims' reports of physical injury (Makepeace, 1986) and psychological distress (Henton, Gate, Koval, Lloyd, & Christopher, 1983; Makepeace, 1986; Matthews, 1984). In addition, studies have found that only about half of dating relationships are terminated following violence (Gate et al., 1982; Makepeace, 1981; Sigelman, Berry, & Wiles, 1984) and that 33.8% of women involved in violent dating relationships expect to marry their abusers (Lo & Sporakowski, 1989). Expectations that the relationship will culminate in marriage appear to be well founded, as 30% of abused women report marrying someone who had abused them during courtship (Roscoe & Benaske, 1985).

While investigators have identified several variables that correlate with the occurrence of dating relationship violence, e.g., seriousness of relationship and attributions of love and commitment, little attention has focused on individual differences in women's responses to violence. Two variables with potential explanatory power are control appraisals and coping, as both control and coping have been found to mediate the relationship between stressful events and psychological well-being (Forsythe & Compas, 1987; Vitaliano, DeWolfe, Maiuro, Russo, & Katon, 1990). Further, improved psychological well-being may facilitate relationship maintenance, as women may not perceive a reason to terminate the relationship.

Control has been defined by Thompson (1982) as "the belief that one has at one's disposal a response that can influence the aversiveness of an event" (p. 89). Beliefs that events are controllable have been hypothesized to be associated with low levels of distress, whereas beliefs that events are uncontrollable have been hypothesized to be associated with high levels of distress. Results of a number of studies have supported the relationship between control beliefs and well-being (Burger, 1987; Rodin & Langer, 1977; Schmidt & Keating, 1979).

Lazarus and Folkman (1984) have formulated a model of stress and coping that defines stress as a transaction between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding personal resources and endangering well-being. Coping is defined as cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage stress, regardless of the efficacy of these efforts (Folkman, 1984). Coping efforts can be externally or internally directed (Folkman, 1984; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). …

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