Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 75–83 | Cite as

A Focus on the Positive: Reasons for Not Engaging in Physical Aggression Against a Dating Partner

  • Natasha Grace Llorens
  • Katie Lee Salis
  • Daniel K. O’Leary
  • Jacqueline Hayward
Original Article


The current study focuses on reasons why most women do not engage in physical aggression against their partner. The sample consists of 170 women, aged 18–35 from across the US. In an online questionnaire, 34% of the sample reported using physical aggression against a partner. Primary reasons for engaging in aggression were “anger [73%]” and “temper [68%].” For those who were not aggressive, primary deterrents were beliefs that “using aggression is inappropriate [72%]” and “under no circumstances is physical aggression okay [71%].” Physically aggressive females were less satisfied with relationships, more accepting of physical violence, and felt more provoked in conflict situations. Across varied studies assessing reasons for physical aggression against a partner, anger is perceived as most prevalent, though a meta-analysis found that trait anger has a small association with intimate partner aggression. The strikingly different results indicate the need for research to reconcile this discrepancy.


Partner aggression Dating violence Female perpetration Motives Provocation Non-aggression Relationship satisfaction Acceptance of violence 


  1. Archer, J. (2000). Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: a meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 651–680. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.126.5.651.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arias, I. & Johnson, P. (1986). Evaluations of physical aggression in marriage. Paper presented at the 20th meeting of the Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy, Chicago.Google Scholar
  3. Avery-Leaf, S., Cascardi, M., O’Leary, K. D., & Cano, A. (1997). Efficacy of a dating violence prevention program on attitudes justifying aggression. Journal of Adolescent Health, 21, 11–17. doi: 10.1016/S1054-139X(96)00309-6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bettencourt, A. B., & Miller, N. (1996). Gender differences in aggression as a function of provocation: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 119(3), 422–447. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.119.3.422.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bookwala, J., Frieze, I. H., Smith, C., & Ryan, K. (1992). Predictors of dating violence: a multivariate analysis. Violence and Victims, 7, 297–311.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Ecological models of human development. In T. Husen & T. N. Psotlewaite (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education (2nd ed., pp. 1643–1647). New York: Elsevier Science.Google Scholar
  7. Caldwell, J. E., Swan, S. C., Allen, C. T., Sullivan, T. P., & Snow, D. L. (2009). Research examining the motivation of women’s use of intimate partner violence. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, 18, 672–697.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Campbell, J. C., & Lewandowski, L. A. (1997). Mental and physical health effects of intimate partner violence on women and children. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 20(2), 353–374. doi: 10.1016/S0193-953X(05)70317-8.
  9. Cantos, A. L., Neidig, P. H., & O’Leary, K. D. (1994). Injuries to women and men in treatment program for domestic violence. Journal of Family Violence, 9, 113–124. doi: 10.1007/BF01531958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cascardi, M., & Vivian, D. (1995). Context for specific episodes of marital violence: gender and severity of violence differences. Journal of Family Violence, 7, 249–259. doi: 10.1007/BF02110993.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cascardi, M., Langhinrichsen, J., & Vivian, D. (1992). Martial aggression. Impact, injury, and health correlates for husbands and wives. Archives of Internal Medicine, 152, 1178–1184. doi: 10.1001/archinte.1992.00400180048007.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Coker, A. L., Davis, K. E., Arias, I., Desai, S., Sanderson, M., Brandt, H. M., & Smith, P. H. (2002). Physical and mental health effects of intimate partner violence for men and women. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 24(4), 260–268. doi: 10.1016/S0749-3797(02)00514-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Connolly, J., & Josephson, W. (2007). Aggression in adolescent dating relationships: predictors and prevention. Prevention Researcher, 14, 3–5.Google Scholar
  14. Cornelius, T. L., & Resseguie, N. (2006). Primary and secondary prevention programs for dating violence: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 12, 364–375. doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2006.09.006.
  15. Dutton, M. A., Haywood, Y., & El-Bayoumi, G. (1997). Impact of violence on women's health. In S. J. Gallant, G. P. Keita, R. Royak-Schaler, S. J. Gallant, G. P. Keita, R. Royak-Schaler (Eds.), Health care for women: Psychological, social, and behavioral influences (pp. 41-56). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. doi: 10.1037/10235-003
  16. Eagly, A. H., & Steffen, V. (1986). Gender and aggressive behavior: a meta-analytic review of the social psychological literature. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 309–330. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.100.3.309.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fernandez-Gonzalez, L., O’Leary, K. D., & Munoz-Rivas, M. (2013a). We are not joking need for controls in reports of dating violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28, 602–620. doi: 10.1177/0886260512455518.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fernandez-Gonzalez, L., O’Leary, K. D., & Munoz-Rivas, M. (2013b). Age related changes in dating aggression in Spanish high school students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi: 10.1177/0886260513506057.Google Scholar
  19. Follingstad, D. R., Wright, S., Lloyd, S., & Sebastian, J. A. (1991). Sex differences in motivations and effects in dating violence. Family Relations, 40, 51–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Follingstad, D. R., Bradley, R. G., Laughlin, J. E., & Burke, L. (1999). Risk factors and correlates of dating violence: the relevance of examining frequency and severity levels in a college sample. Violence and Victims, 14(4), 365–380.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Foshee, V. A., Bauman, K. E., Ximena, B. A., Russell, H. W., Koch, G. G., & Linder, G. F. (1998). An evaluation of safe dates, an adolescent dating violence prevention program. American Journal of Public Health, 88(1), 45–50. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.88.1.45.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Foshee, V. A., Bauman, K. E., & Linder, G. F. (1999). Family violence and the perpetration of adolescent dating violence: Examining social learning and social control processes. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61(2), 331–342.Google Scholar
  23. Foshee, V. A., Bauman, K. E., Greene, W. F., Koch, G. G., Linder, G. F., & MacDougall, J. E. (2000). The safe dates program: 1-year follow-up results. American Journal of Public Health, 90(10), 1619.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Foshee, V. A., Linder, F., & Rice, J. (2001). Gender differences in adolescent dating violence profiles. Paper presented at the International Family Violence Research Conference, Portsmouth, NH.Google Scholar
  25. Frodi, A., Macaulay, J., & Thome, P. R. (1977). Are women always less aggressive than men? A review of the experimental literature. Psychological Bulletin, 84, 634–660. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.84.634.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Golding, J. M. (1999). Intimate partner violence as a risk factor for mental disorders: a meta-analysis. Journal of Family Violence, 14(2), 99–132. doi: 10.1023/A:1022079418229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Harned, M. S. (2001). Abused women or abused men? An examination of the context and outcomes of dating violence. Violence and Victims, 16, 269–285.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Haynie, D. L., Farhat, T., Brooks-Russell, A., Wang, J., Barbieri, B., & Iannotti, R. (2013). Dating violence perpetration and victimization among U.S. adolescents: prevalence, patterns, and associations with health complaints and substance use. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(2), 194–201. doi: 10.1016/j.adolhealth.2013.02.008.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Henton, J. M., Cate, R. M., Koval, J., et al. (1983). Romance and violence in dating relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 4, 467–482. doi: 10.1177/019251383004003004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hettrich, E. L., & O’Leary, K. D. (2007). Females’ reasons for their physical aggression in dating relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(9), 1131–1143. doi: 10.1177/088626057303729.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hong, J. S., Kim, S. M., Yoshihama, M., & Byoun, S. J. (2010). Wife battering in South Korea: An ecological systems analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(12), 1623–1630. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2010.07.024.
  32. Hyde, J. S. (1984). How large are gender differences in aggression? A developmental meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 20, 722–736. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.20.4.722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kelly, C. (1995). Conflict in high school dating relationships. Unpublished manuscript. Stony Brook University.Google Scholar
  34. Lawrence, E., & Bradbury, T. N. (2001). Physical aggression and marital dysfunction: a longitudinal analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 15(1), 135. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.15.1.135.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lawrence, E., & Bradbury, T. (2007). Trajectories of change in physical aggression and marital satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(2), 236–247. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.21.2.236.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Leisring, P. A. (2013). Physical and emotional abuse in romantic relationships: motivation for perpetration among college women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28(7), 1437–1454. doi: 10.1177/0886260512468236.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Leonard, K. E., & Senchak, M. (1996). Prospective prediction of husband marital aggression within newlywed couples. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 05(3), 369–380. doi: 10.1037/0021-834X.105.3.369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Malik, S., Sorensen, S. B., & Anashel, C. S. (1997). Community and dating violence among adolescents. Perpetration and victimization. Journal of Adolescent Health, 21, 291–302. doi: 10.1016/S1054-139X(97)00143-2.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Muñoz-Rivas, M. J., Graña, J. L., O’Leary, K. D., & González, M. P. (2009). Prevalence and predictors of sexual aggression in dating relationships of adolescents and young adults. Psicothema, 21, 234–240.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Norton, R. (1983) Measuring martial quality: a critical look at the dependent variable. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 45(1), 141–151.Google Scholar
  41. O’Keefe, M. (1997). Predictors of dating violence among high school students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12(4), 546. doi: 10.1177/088626097012004005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. O’Leary, K. D., & Woodin, E. M. (2005). Partner aggression and problem drinking across the lifespan: how much do they decline? Clinical Psychology Review, 25(7), 877–894. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2005.03.004.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. O’Leary, K. D., Barling, J., Arias, I., Rosenbaum, A., Malone, J., & Tyree, A. (1989). Prevalence and stability of physical aggression between spouses: a longitudinal analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 263–268. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.57.2.263.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. O’Leary, K. D., Slep, A. M., & O’Leary, S. G. (2007). Multivariate models of men’s and women’s partner aggression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75, 752–764. doi: 10.1037/0022-00226X.75.5.752.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. O’Leary, K. D., Slep, A. M. S., Avery-Leaf, S., & Cascardi, M. (2008). Gender differences in dating aggression among multiethnic high school students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(5), 473–479. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.09.012.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. O’Leary, K. D., Tintle, N., & Bromet, E. (2014). Risk factors for physical violence against partners in the United States. Psychology of Violence, 4(1), 65–77.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pan, H. S., Neidig, P. H., & O’Leary, K. D. (1994). Male–female and aggressor-victim differences in the factor structure of the modified Conflict Tactics Scale. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 9, 366–382. doi: 10.1177/088626094009003006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Paolacci, G., Chandler, J., & Ipeirotis, P. (2010). Running experiments on amazon mechanical turk. Judgment and Decision Making, 5(5), 411–419.Google Scholar
  49. Paul, C., Fitzjohn, J., Eberhardt-Phillips, J., Herbison, P., & Dickson, N. (2000). Sexual abstinence at age 21 in New Zealand: the importance of religion. Social Science and Medicine, 51(1), 1–10. doi: 10.1016/S0277-9536(99)00425-6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Riggs, D. S., & O’Leary, K. D. (1989). A theoretical model of courtship aggression. In O’ Keefe M. (1997), Predictors of dating violence among high school students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12(4), 546.Google Scholar
  51. Sears, H. A., Sandra Byers, E., & Lisa Price, E. (2007). The co-occurrence of adolescent boys’ and girls’ use of psychologically, physically, and sexually abusive behaviours in their dating relationships. Journal of Adolescence, 30(3), 487–504. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2006.05.002.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Seibenbruner, J., Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., & England, B. (2007). Sexual partners and contraceptive use: a 16-year prospective study predicting abstinence and risk behavior. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 17(1), 179–206. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2007.00518.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Stith, S., Smith, D., Penn, C., Ward, D., & Tritt, D. (2004). Intimate partner physical abuse perpetration and victimization risk factors: a meta-analytic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10(1), 65–98. doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2003.09.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Straus, M. A., & Ramirez, I. L. (2007). Gender symmetry in prevalence, severity, and chronicity of physical aggression against dating partners by university students in Mexico and USA. Aggressive Behavior, 33, 281–290. doi: 10.1002/ab.20199.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natasha Grace Llorens
    • 1
  • Katie Lee Salis
    • 1
  • Daniel K. O’Leary
    • 1
  • Jacqueline Hayward
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA

Personalised recommendations