CHAPTER TWO (part 3)
Goode's (1971) Resource Theory as well as others that have
emanated from it (i.e., the exchange/ resource theory (Makepeace, 1987), social exchange
theory (Goode, 1971) and interpersonal resource-exchange theory (Teichman & Teichman,
1989), provide an influential explanation of spouse abuse. According to this perspective,
the family is viewed as a power system in which its members rely upon some degree of force
to ensure that others serve their ends (Goode, 1971). Force is viewed as one of
several resources that forms the basis of all stratification systems.
Another important principle of this theory addresses the
notion of exchange. Within the family structure, people are bound to each other
through ongoing transactions or exchanges (Goode, 1971).
Violence is seen as an outcome of the inequity of exchange.
Goode (1971), Makepeace (1987) and Peterson (1991) suggested that families from the
lower social strata are particularly vulnerable to abuse because they have fewer
alternative resources. For example, they have less prestige, money, and power.
As a result, they experience greater frustration and bitterness. In addition to
these, Peterson (1991) also found that women seeking divorces (some of whom cited partner
abuse as grounds) described their husbands as having meagre psychological resources.
For many, having limited social and psychological resources also translate into violent
When addressing the issues of power status and frustration as
they relate to violence, Teichman and Teichman (1989) developed a classification system of
interpersonal resources that enabled them to offer several predictions with regard to the
probability of abusive episodes. Among their findings, they reported an increased
likelihood for women to encounter violence when the resource-exchanges between the spouses
were unbalanced in their favour. This was due to prevailing societal norms and beliefs
regarding the placement of women within the structure of society.
This research suggests that imbalances in resource-exchanges
exist in both macro and micro levels of the social environment.
Social Learning Theory.
Social learning theory is a conceptual framework that has its
origins in the work of psychologist, Albert Bandura (1965). According to Bandura
(1986), children's acquisition of many complex behaviours are due to their exposure to
competent models that display appropriate behaviour in solving problems and coping with
their world. Inasmuch as positive behaviours can be acquired through positive role
models, conversely, negative behaviours can also be acquired through the modelling of
negative behaviours. With this in mind, Bandura (1979) applied social learning
principles to the acquisition and maintenance of aggressive habits.
It is the latter set of circumstances that has been of
interest to those in the area of family violence. Researchers have applied social
learning theory to explain the following aspects of the development and transmission of
family violence: the patterning of violence among adult children observing violence in
their families of origin (Kalmuss, 1984), the intergenerational transmission of family
aggression (Cappell & Heiner, 1990), the generalization of aggression from one
relationship to another across time (Malone et al., 1989), and the continuation of marital
violence in remarriage (Kalmuss & Seltzer, 1986).
The above examples of research provide support for the
modelling effects of early exposure to violence within one's family of origin.
According to Burgess and Youngblade (1988), families are the
primary socializing agent of children and have an enduring effect on an individual's
social development. Furthermore, they suggested that abusive parent's reliance upon
coercive patterns of family interaction will likely to also be emulated by children in
later relationships. For children, being a victim of abuse does not turn them
against violence, but instead teaches it as a value (Straus, 1980). Finally, Burgess
and Youngblade (1988) suggested that a child's peer relations may function either as a
deterrent or a causal pathway in carrying out those behaviours observed at home. It
therefore appears that the influence of other significant role models may have a mediating
or an indirect effect on the development of family violence.
Murray Straus (1979) introduced the application of conflict
theory to the study of family violencewhen he suggested that conflict within a
relationship is a necessary condition to ensure its continued functioning. Hotaling
and Straus (1980) suggested that attempts to suppress conflict may result in the collapse
of a family or any social unit either through its failure to adapt to changing conditions
or because hostility accumulates, eroding group solidarity. Moreover, an avoidance
of conflict situations ironically tends to increase hostility as the possibility of
violence (Foss, 1980).
Hotaling and Straus (1980) also suggested that the likelihood
of conflict is greatest within the family because unlike other special purpose groups
(i.e., academic departments, businesses or corporations), the activities and interests of
a family are all encompassing, thus leaving more opportunity for arguments to develop.
These authors cited the high frequency of interactions between
spouses as having a major impact on the experience of conflict within a
relationship. Finally, these authors suggested that if particular conditions exist
(i.e., unemployment, stress, history of violence in the family of origin), family members
are more likely to engage in violent behaviour, which in turn also increases the
likelihood for injuries to occur.
In presenting the rationale underlying the CTS, Straus (1979)
distinguished among methods or "tactics" of conflict resolution. He noted
that a critical issue in gaining an understanding of conflict theory is not the existence
or amount of conflict, but the methods in which they are resolved. Studies examining
the presence of conflict within marital relationships have found that conflict resulting
in violence is affected by a number of variables. Coleman and Straus (1986) found
rates of conflict were lowest among equalitarian couples and highest among male-dominant
and female-dominant couples.
Moreover, when conflict did occur in dominant family types, it
was associated with a higher risk of violence compared to similar levels of conflict in
Another study conducted by Lloyd (1990) compared violent
andnonviolent marriages. She found that the relationship between conflict and
violence was mediated by level of distress. Her results indicated that distressed-violent
couples were characterized by lower levels of squabbles, problem solving, negotiations,
and apology, and by higher levels of verbal attack, withdrawal, and stable heated
arguments. Nondistressed-violent couples on the other hand, reported a more mixed
picture of conflict strategies such as problem solving, negotiation, and compromise,
combined with anger and verbal attack.
The research just presented illustrates the important role
that conflict plays in family relationships. As shown, the link between conflict and
violence is affected by structural factors in addition to those related to the manner in
which conflict is managed and resolved.
According to Straus (1980) and Hotaling and Straus (1980), the
level of stress experienced in the family is related to the ongoing structural changes
that it experiences. Examples of these structural changes include marriage, the
birth of children, divorce, retirement, aging, and death. Moreover, the experience
of stress is thought to be individualized. According to Farrington (1986), stressful
stimuli need not be catastrophic events, but instead, can take the form of routine and
The family is also vulnerable because of the effects of
stress. "Together with the huge emotional investment typical of family relationships,
it means that the family is likely to be the locus of more and more serious stresses than
other groups." (p. 17, Hotaling & Straus, 1980). Farrington (1986) outlined
two additional characteristics of the modern American family that place it at risk for the
occurrence of violence. First, he argued that in spite of a family's reservoir of
skills, attributes, and resources, it is not ideally suited to satisfactorily cope with a
variety of stressor stimuli to which members come into contact. The ability to cope
is particularly impeded when families are faced with an overload of stressors such as
unemployment, illness, and financial problems.
The other characteristic relates to the acceptance of violence
as a reasonable response to stress and frustration in American society (Farrington,
1986). Farrington (1986) suggested that the existence of powerful social norms both
encourage and reinforce the relationships between stress, frustration and violent
Although the rates of violent crimes are lower in Canada than in
the U.S. (Browne, 1987; Statistics Canada, 1988), the dynamics underlying violence are
thought to be similar. The high prevalence and incidence rates of abuse reported
previously seem to suggest that the legitimization of these norms are especially evident
within the context of the family. Summary. The theories reviewed above are
reflective of a perspective concerned with gaining an understanding of the social
underpinnings of intimate relationships experiencing violent interactions. Straus et al.
(1980) and other proponents of sociological conceptual frameworks have been responsible
for alerting the public to the seriousness surrounding the problem of family violence. As
a result of their efforts, violence between family members is no longer considered a
private matter, but one that is a concern of society, in general.
Sociologists' explanations of partner abuse are nevertheless
incomplete. First, in a review article on family violence, Emery (1989) noted that the
application of social learning theory to the study of family violence ignores the role of
emotion in mediating some forms of family violence. Moreover, whereas social
learning models explain how family members are socialized into becoming abusive, they do
little to explain how people learn to inhibit violence. In as much as violent behaviour
can be learned, those principles involved in its learning should also be operative in its
Finally, Emery (1989) noted that much of the related data has
been retrospective. Reliance on this type of data is subject to the effects of
respondents' changing recall over time, as well as limited opportunities to verify their
accounts. Research aimed at assessing both couples' and parents' past and current
conflict resolution strategies may shed some light the validity of the relationship
between adult relationship violence and violence in the family of origin. Research
employing this type of methodology has yet to be tested.
Researchers conducting psychologically based investigations
have studied constitutional factors such as temperament or emotionality, aggression, and
personality, as well as situational factors such as alcohol or drug abuse as explanatory
agents in family violence.
However, there is considerable controversy over the role of
psychopathology in the occurrence of violence. For example, the effects of
psychological variables in violent modes of conflict resolution have been minimized by
Gelles and Straus (1988).
Nevertheless, some researchers have recently begun to emulate the
general population survey methodologies popular among sociologists through the
investigation of psychological risk factors (Sommer et al., 1992; Bland & Orn, 1986).
Studies that employ a psychoanalytic theory of spouse abuse
focus on the intrapsychic forces within the individual. Violence against women is
seen as an attempt on the part of the abuser to seek confirmation of a masculine identity
(Gondolf, 1985). By hating women, it is thought that the abuser is able to contain
and control the feminine aspects of his upbringing. To date, psychoanalytic theory has
been applied only to the explanation of male perpetrated violence. Explanations of
violence by women have not been attempted.
Although the psychoanalytic theory possesses intuitive appeal,
hypotheses derived from it are difficult to test. At best, this theory's value lies
in post hoc explanations of a phenomenon. As a result, this theoretical perspective
is limited in its application to empirical research.
The application of the disinhibition theory is evident in
research conducted by both sociologists and psychologists. While the former are
interested in the effects of alcohol consumption as a social force (Kantor & Straus,
1987), the latter focus on the biochemical effects alcohol has on the behaviour of
individuals (Gustafson, 1985).
According to this theoretical perspective, alcohol consumption
is linked to violent behaviour through its physiological effects releasing an individual's
violent impulses, tendencies, and inhibitions (Hamilton & Collins, 1981; Spielberger,
1970). Kantor and Straus (1987) explained that "alcohol's effects on the
central nervous system release inhibitions by depressing brain function or suppressing
super-ego function thereby allowing the expression of rage" (p. 214). Walker
(1979) proposed that there may be similarities between the specific blood chemistry
changes evident under a generalized stress reaction such as battering and those found in
There is also evidence that in addition to the physiological
and cognitive effects of alcohol on the individual, personal vulnerability (Barnes et al.,
1991) and the context in which the interaction occurs (Shapiro, 1982) play a role in
determining the likelihood of violent behaviour. The high rates of alcohol
consumption associated with family violence suggests that the disinhibition theory is an
appropriate conceptual framework for the study of partner abuse.
Research based on personality theory is well documented in
clinical data, and more recently, in general population survey data.
Generally speaking, researchers have tended to agree that male
abusers can be distinguished from the rest of the population based on a number of
personality characteristics. For example, while some researchers agree that male
abusers can be characterized as having low self esteem and exhibiting high levels of
anxiety (Barnes et al., 1991; Goldstein & Rosenbaum, 1985; Walker, 1979), other
investigators have found female perpetrators of violence to have higher levels of
sociopathy (Bland & Orn, 1986; Scheurger & Reigle, 1988).
Proponents of personality theory believe that individuals are
born with an inherent predisposition to develop certain personality traits (Buss &
Plomin, 1984). According to Buss and Plomin (1984), this is evidenced in variations
in temperament found among infants.
Eysenck (1965) developed a genetic theory of personality that
proposed that the nature of an individual's biology is a determinant of his or her
personality make-up. He suggested that some of the variability in human behaviour
could be accounted for by the finding that criminals consistently score higher than the
general population along extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism personality
dimensions (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985; Wilson, 1981). Research by Malamuth (1988)
demonstrated that high scores on psychoticism among males were also associated with sexual
aggression and predicted aggression against females in a laboratory setting.
The existence of a continuum of antisocial behaviour (Eysenck
& Eysenck, 1985) ranging from minor infractions (i.e., drinking alcohol at a bar while
below the legal age) to major criminal offenses (i.e., armed robbery) is indicative of an
individual's predisposition toward criminality. It is along this continuum that the
perpetration of partner abuse is thought to lie. Based on Eysenckian theory, an
individual most likely to abuse his/her partner would be one who is: 1) impulsive
and disinhibited, therefore failing to acquire social rules (extravert), 2) anxious and
whose anxiety acts as a trigger to learned deviant responses such as violence (neurotic),
and 3) uncaring and unlikely to feel guilt, empathy or sensitivity, therefore having
little difficulty behaving anti-socially (psychotic) (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985).
While heredity is thought to be "a strong predisposing factor, ...the actual
way in which a crime is carried out... is subject to the vicissitudes of everyday
life" (p. 79, Eysenck, 1977). This delineation suggests that the interface between a
person's inborn characteristics and those found in his/her social environment is extremely
important in determining the likelihood that a deviant mode of conduct will emerge.
Research employing the psychological theories described above
have contributed to our understanding of violence between intimate partners. Their
findings confirm the wide range of effects contributed by individual differences in the
occurrence of family violence. In spite of the limitations associated with
methodological precision and the omission of variables measuring the social origins of
abuse (i.e., unemployment), research based upon psychologically based frameworks have
provided support for the inclusion of related factors in family violence research.
The application of family systems theory to family violence
research was initially concerned with the investigation of child abuse (Emery,
1989). Since that time, researchers and family therapists have found family systems
theory to be a useful tool in explaining the development and maintenance of other forms of
abuse within the family. This theoretical framework has also provided the means to
develop strategies for the treatment of abuse (Gelles & Maynard, 1987). Much of the
appeal of this approach has been in its ability to be jointly implemented with other
theoretical perspectives such as the feminist (Bograd, 1984) and social learning (Emery,
According to systems theory, domestic violence is viewed as a
phenomenon affecting all members of the family; not just those individuals identified as
either perpetrators or victims of abuse.
Straus (1974) described the family as an adaptive goal seeking
system with the resulting violence as a "system product" or output. His systems
model specified positive feedback loops thought to be responsible for the escalation of
violence as well as negative feedback loops that were conversely thought to either
maintain or lessen the present level of violence.
Much of the strength of this perspective lies in its ability
to focus on the entire family system without losing sight of the influences and effects of
individual family members. However, family systems perspective has been criticized
by feminists because of its apparent subtle biases against women (Bograd, 1984).
These biases are thought to be found in the language of family systems theory, in the
formulations of how domestic violence develops and in types of interventions
recommended. Ironically however, inasmuch as Bograd (1984) attempts to make a case
for proponents of the feminist perspective, his critique is also inherently biased because
it is based on the assumption that only women are victims of abuse.
The women's movement has been responsible for bringing the
issue of "wife battering" to the forefront. Dobash and Dobash (1979) were
the first to suggest that the fundamental causes of violence against wives is "a
patriarchal society". According to feminist ideology, wife abuse is viewed as being
the result of an imbalance of power between men and women. Feminists have asserted
that throughout time, women have been subjugated by the greater patriarchal society that
has placed limits on their opportunities and leaving them vulnerable to a number of
Two theories explaining why women stay in abusive
relationships have emerged from this ideological perspective. The first is the
"Cycle of Violence" theory which describes the dynamics of an abusive
relationship, and the second is the "Learned Helplessness" Theory which explains
the victimization process. While both theories integrate structural features of
sociological frameworks and psychodynamic features of psychological frameworks, only the
first will be discussed because of its relevance to the perpetration of violence.
Cycle of Violence.
The Cycle of Violence Theory was born out of the research
conducted by Lenore Walker (1979) on battered wives. This theory is based on the
premise that women are not constantly being abused, and their willingness to remain in an
abusive relationship is related to cyclical fluctuations betweenperiods of abuse and
relative peaceful coexistence. The theory also explains how women become victimized,
how they fall into "learnedhelplessness" behaviour, and why they do not attempt
to escape(Walker, 1979).
The cycle of violence is made up of three separate and
distinct phases. The first stage is called the "tension building" phase where
upon the abusing spouse exhibits moodiness, is short tempered, and is critical of his
spouse. It is during this stage that the other spouse may feel as if she "were
walking on egg shells", and attempts to avert any further escalation of the
tension. The second stage is called the "explosion" phase. This is a
relatively short lived period in which the tensions of the previous stage reach crisis
proportions and a physical assault ensues. The third, and final stage, has been
called the "honeymoon" phase because it is during this stage that the abusing
spouse shows great remorse for his actions and promises never to repeat the episode.
According to Walker (1979), it is not uncommon that the abused spouse and her perpetrator
will engage in lovemaking soon after the assault.
It is thought that the interchange between caring and abuse
keeps the abused wife from leaving the relationship and the abuser from changing his
behaviour. In spite of its cyclical nature, it is, nevertheless, difficult to
predict the timing of each phase or the repetition of the cycle due to the influence of
situational factors (Walker, 1979).
The cycle of abuse provides an explanation of partner abuse
that is consistent with the large number of women who refuse to press charges against
their partners, and those that welcome them back into their homes following an arrest or
imprisonment. At the same time, it should also be kept in mind that the development
of the cycle of violence theory and the application of learned helplessness theory by
Walker (1979) were based on a self selected sample of abused women.
Thus, while these theoretical frameworks may exemplify abuse
within this specific population, their generalizeability to abuse occurring within the
general population needs to be considered cautiously.
Feminist scholars subscribe to the belief that "women
subjected to domestic abuse need to be portrayed realistically as oppressed and
victimised" (Knight & Hatty, 1987, p. 460). This statement implies that within
the context of an intimate relationship, only women can be viewed as victims, and
conversely, only men can be viewed as perpetrators. As demonstrated previously, this
is inconsistent with much of the data on spousal violence. This view is also
incompatible with other research that women are over-represented as perpetrators in
incidents of physical child abuse (Coleman & Charles, 1990; Star, 1983; Straus et al.,
1980). Finally, the empirical evidence demonstrating the occurrence of violence within
lesbian relationships (Marie, 1984) challenges the argument that violence against women is
the result of men's overt attempts to dominate women.
Summary of Theoretical
Regardless of the conceptual framework employed, each serves
the purpose of providing an explanation of a particular phenomenon and in so doing, guide
the research investigating it. The above review has highlighted several theories
commonly applied to the study of partner abuse. This review has demonstrated that
each theory has uniquely contributed to the explanation of abuse between partners.
However, in spite of this, none are complete in their account of domestic violence, nor
void of limitations.
Next: Chapter 3 Part 1