Well, we’ve recently completed a study of adolescent and young adult romantic relationships. In the last wave of interviews that we conducted, we focused our central attention on teen dating violence and intimate partner violence. It’s a study that surveys 1,200 youth, and we have followed them from the time that they are 13, up until — average age — in the late twenties now.
There is that strong belief that once an abuser, always an abuser or that there’s a stable trait that may predispose people to aggression. While that certainly has validity to it as a theme, we see a lot of variability within this sample. People actually do stop hitting their partners.
We noticed, kind of, a straightforward way to desist is simply to recognize that you need to change partners and to get a new partner, but almost as interesting, if not more interesting, are those individuals who actually did adjust their behavior and consciously set about to change these patterns.
One of the themes that’s popular in various prevention and intervention efforts is this idea of control, but what I think has been lost is that there is an actual connection between control attempts and particular contested domains within the relationship.
So, we have said yes, control is important, but what is it they’re trying to control? Anger is actually a part of the experience, but why are they angry?
We found that three areas are of central concern for a lot of these young people — financial matters, somewhat surprisingly, because we know that these are not all cohabiting or marriage relationships
A second area that we looked at that came out as a recurring theme was to do with peer/partner balance. How much time should I be spending with my peers? How much with my partner?
Finally, and probably most importantly, we found that issues of infidelity or fidelity concerns were extremely important as a contested domain that often linked to these more serious physical conflicts. I think it’s important not to think of these as mutually exclusive because sometimes people actually talked about the whole package of these concerns.
Our view is that we need to develop a more localized view of anger, not as something that’s this immutable trait of the individual that they carry forward with them at all times, it’s something that emerges, based on these disagreements, but also based on the individual’s attempt to try to control you
That more localized approach, I think, is important, because it does provide hope for change.
First, it’s important to say that clearly, as shown in our data and many other data sets, women experience the greatest amounts of fear, intimidation, and even injury from different acts of intimate partner violence.
That said, we find very high rates of female perpetration, according to their own self reports and according to young men’s reports about what their partner does in that relationship.
Women are trying to control partners with respect to certain things that are important to them that are going on in their relationships. That’s one of the themes that we usually think about — male control — when we think about this field, but actually, in the relationship’s characterized by violence, there are also high levels of female control
We’re just trying to add a layer of complexity there to say that there are many different scenarios that produce anger, control attempts, and violence, of which that is only one.
I think we’re almost — it’s fair to say — in a kind of second generation of understandings about this problem. When you look at how people talk about intimate partner violence, there are very few people who would say oh, yeah, it’s okay to hit your partner or that’s good for her, to hit her. No one really believes that anymore. It’s something that, at some broad societal level, has been discredited and it’s not a source of status enhancement, but yet, we still have this problem.
There are certain kinds of things where people suspend the normal “what I know to be wrong” and they actually engage in behavior that they know is not correct.
It might be that the young woman has seen a text message from someone and they really are legitimately angry. It’s at that point that you have to make decisions to avoid escalating the conflict or feeling humiliated because you’ve been found out. A lot of people express that, that they do feel putdown or humiliated at that particular point, when they’re caught in a lie, so those are the real vulnerability points within relationships.
So, we ought to talk about these vulnerability points, without saying that the victim precipitated this action or somehow was involved in its unfolding within the relationship. It’s a very delicate balance, but I think it’s well worth taking because we’ve made, sort of, the big strides now, and now we can begin to really hone in on these reluctant — oh, I know it’s wrong, but — kind of, beliefs that may still foster this pattern of behavior.
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