Satisfaction with Relationship Power and the Perpetration of Dating Violence

By Ronfeldt, Heidi M.; Kimerling, Rachel et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, February 1998 | Go to article overview

Satisfaction with Relationship Power and the Perpetration of Dating Violence


Ronfeldt, Heidi M., Kimerling, Rachel, Arias, Ileana, Journal of Marriage and Family


This study examined the contribution of a new relationship power construct-satisfaction with relationship power-to physical violence by men against their dating partners. One hundred and fifty-six dating college males participated in this study. As hypothesized, satisfaction with relationship power, but not the amount of perceived relationship power, was related to dating violence by men. Confirming the conceptualization of psychological and physical abuse as means of gaining control in relationships, dissatisfaction with relationship power predicted psychological and physical abuse. Some men became physically abusive in response to dissatisfaction with relationship power; others progressed from psychologically to physically abusive behaviors. Men at greatest risk of escalating from psychological to physical acts of control over their partners were those who had been exposed as children to their fathers physically abusing their mothers.

Key Words: dating violence, parental marital violence, psychological abuse, relationship power.

Although a great deal of research has focused on marital violence, dating violence is also prevalent in this society. Approximately 30% of men and women report engaging in physical aggression against their current dating partner (Arias, Samios, & O'Leary, 1987), and 52% of dating subjects report engaging in physical aggression against a partner (Rose & Marshall, 1985). Furthermore, dating violence has been shown to have significant psychological and physical consequences (Rouse, Breen, & Howell, 1988) and to be quite stable over a couple's progression from courtship to marriage (Murphy & O'Leary, 1989). Consequently, identifying potential determinants of dating violence is important in order to inform efforts to decrease its occurrence and prevent the future occurrence and deleterious effects of violence in intimate relationships.

POWER AND INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS

In an attempt to explain heterosexual men's aggression toward their partners, many researchers have focused on the distribution of power between men and women in intimate relationships. Relationship power is commonly conceptualized as the ability to affect partner outcomes (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959) and to persuade one's partner to do what one wants (Cartwright & Zander, 1968). Power can be exercised in the decision-making process (Lipps, 1991). Two prominent theories of power as a causal agent in intimate relationships have emerged: feminist theory and resource theory. Feminist theorists focus on the social and political climate in which male violence occurs and its impact on intimate relationships between men and women. More specifically, feminist perspectives highlight Western society's patriarchal values and view men's aggression toward women as a way in which men attempt to enforce and maintain their social advantage over women (Bograd, 1988; Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Dobash, Dobash, Wilson, & Daly, 1992). Although feminist theory points to important determinants of violence, empirical tests have not been totally supportive. For instance, studies examining men's attitudes toward patriarchal gender roles and violence against women have found that men with nontraditional attitudes toward sex roles were more likely to use physical aggression toward women (Bookwala, Frieze, Smith, & Ryan, 1992; Rosenbaum, 1986) and that many men view violence against women as socially undesirable (Arias & Johnson, 1989; Riggs, Murphy, & O'Leary, 1989). Feminist theory also does not adequately account for comparable rates of men's and women's partner violence (Arias et al.,1987; Steinmetz, 1977; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980) or the large number of men living in patriarchal societies who do not abuse their partners.

Although feminist theory implicates patriarchal values in partner violence by men, resource theory implicates deficient resources. Resource theorists posit that marital power is derived from the amount of resources (e. …

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Satisfaction with Relationship Power and the Perpetration of Dating Violence
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