Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Excuses, Excuses: Accounting for the Effects of Partner Violence on Marital Satisfaction and Stability

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Excuses, Excuses: Accounting for the Effects of Partner Violence on Marital Satisfaction and Stability

Article excerpt

For both theoretical and practical reasons, it is important to understand processes that lead to marital dissatisfaction and dissolution among women who are targets of relationship violence. Because attributional tendencies may often forecast marital behavior and because alcohol use is often seen as providing an excuse for deviant behavior, we examine two potential moderators of the associations between husband violence and wife marital outcomes: wife attributional style and husband problem drinking tendencies. A community sample of married couples (N = 66) completed a comprehensive battery of marital assessments. Results suggested that responsibility attributions moderated the association between husband violence and wives' marital dissatisfaction but exerted a direct effect on wives' disposition toward divorce. Husband problem drinking moderated the impact of husband violence only on wives' disposition toward divorce. As would be expected from an "excuse" model of the associations between violence and marital outcomes, violence had less of an impact on marital satisfaction and divorce ideation when wives attributed responsibility for negative spouse behavior as external to their husbands and when husbands were problem drinkers, respectively.

Dissolution of violent relationships often may offer battered women their best chance of preventing further injury. However, targets of domestic violence often appear reluctant to leave their abusive partners (Strube, 1988). A better understanding of this reluctance to leave abusive partners should, at a minimum, better inform therapists and others who may be perplexed or disturbed by this behavior. In addition, a better understanding of marital dissatisfaction and movement toward relationship dissolution may suggest new ways to empower battered women to explore and potentially overcome their reluctance to leave their violent partners.

Women who have been physically assaulted by their partners generally report lower levels of both marital satisfaction and stability than nonvictims (Bauserman & Arias, 1992). However, because some female targets of domestic violence may attribute their abuse to defects in the self or to situational factors affecting their mates (Overholser & Moll, 1990), they may be likely to discount the negative effects of violent behavior, remaining more maritally satisfied and less likely to leave the violent relationship. Unfortunately, partner violence may increase the likelihood of continued bodily injury and subsequent psychological distress, as the frequency and severity of relationship violence is likely to increase over time (Walker, 1983). For example, Feld and Straus (1989) found that the presence of minor assaults in a marriage predicted future severe assaults. They concluded that the presence of minor violence in a relationship indicates that violence is permissible or tolerable, setting the stage for episodes of more severe violence.

One way of examining wives' willingness to excuse negative partner behavior is to examine their "attributional style." Attributional style can be defined as a characteristic, crosssituational pattern of explaining the causes of events and/or assigning responsibility for the occurrence of events. An individual with a negative attributional style will view causes of negative spousal behaviors as reflective of stable, global, and enduring partner characteristics, and/or responsibility for these negative behaviors as reflective of a negative evaluation of the partner (Fincham, Beach, & Baucom, 1987; Fincham & Bradbury, 1987). That is, for marital partners with negative causal and responsibility attributions for spouse behaviors, the cause of the event is located in the partner, and the partner is viewed as blameworthy for the event. Negative attributions for negative events are likely to promote or maintain distress (Bradbury & Fincham, 1992). Indeed, the association between marital discord and negative attributional processes is robust (cf. …

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