Desistance of Husband Aggression in the Early Years of Marriage

By Quigley, Brian M.; Leonard, Kenneth E. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

Desistance of Husband Aggression in the Early Years of Marriage


Quigley, Brian M., Leonard, Kenneth E., Violence and Victims


Desistance of husband marital aggression was investigated over a 3-year time span. One hundred and eighty-eight couples who had experienced husband aggression in the first year of marriage were followed to the third year of marriage. Overall 23.9% of these husbands had no violence in years 2 and 3. However, desistance rates differed as a function of the type of violence that occurred in year 1. Husbands who had only one incident of minor physical aggression and no severe violence in year 1 were most likely to desist in years 2 and 3 while those who used severe violence in year 1 were least likely to desist. Subsequent analyses showed that wife's depression and dissatisfaction with the partner increased from years 1 to 3 when desistance did not occur.

It is estimated that nationally approximately 16% of couples will experience marital physical aggression within a one-year period. This rate reflects at least 8.7 million incidents of marital violence in a single year. Lifetime estimates reveal an even higher percentage of couples who experience violence, with 30% of couples acknowledging physical aggression at least once in their marriage (Straus & Gelles, 1990). One often proposed facet of marital violence is that, once violence begins, it will continue until the relationship ends and sometimes even continue beyond the end of the relationship (Feld & Straus, 1990; Pagelow, 1981). However, this perception may arise from observations and research among clinical samples, such as those who seek refuge at battered women's shelters. Within such samples, the continuation of violence, particularly severe violence, is one factor that may lead a woman to seek such programs. The perception that desistance is a rare occurrence may reflect the fact that women do not seek shelters or treatment if the violence desists. As a result, little is known concerning the cessation of marital violence (Feld & Straus, 1990).

Although desistance of violence has not been extensively studied in the marital violence area, it is recognized, at least implicitly, in the literature concerning violent crime. Specifically, it is well known that violence is largely a behavior perpetrated and experienced by the young, and that older individuals are at a substantially reduced risk for violence. As early as 1958, Wolfgang found that most homicide offenders were between 20 and 30 years of age. More recently, Wilson and Hernstein (1985) found a decrease in both violent and nonviolent crime as the age of the offender increased. Data dealing with prevalence of other forms of violence, such as assault, also consistently demonstrate that violence and aggression are most prevalent in the young, particularly young males. Felson (1992) surveyed a random sample of adults in Albany county, New York, and found strong negative correlations between age of the respondent and the number of aggressive acts reported. Bartenders report the best predictor of violence occurring in bars is the age of the clientele. The younger the bar patron the more likely violence is to occur (Felson, Baccaglini, & Gmelch, 1986). Pernanen's (1991) study of individuals over 20 years of age in Thunder Bay, Ontario, also found that violent acts were more likely to be committed and experienced by those younger in age (i.e., under 29 years of age). Explanations of the relationship between age and violence vary. Routine activities theory (M. Felson, 1993) proposes that youth are more likely to place themselves in positions in which violence has the potential to occur. A more cognitive explanation suggests that youth are less sensitive to the possible costs of their behavior and are therefore less inhibited (Tedeschi & Felson, 1994). Regardless of the exact explanation, the finding remains consistent: The younger the individual, the more likely he or she is to be involved in violence in some fashion.

The evidence relating age to marital violence is similar to the findings cited above (Holtzworth-Munroe, Smutzler, & Bates, in press). …

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