A US study  conducted by researchers of the State University of New York at Stony Brook found that women are more aggressive in relationships. In a study in the USA, these researchers from the Department of Psychology and Department of Sociology have found that women are not only more aggressive in relationships before marriage but continue their aggression even after marriage and most often this aggression is the reason why marriages fall apart.
In a study with community couples, based on their self-report and the partners’ report it was found that more women than men were aggressive in relationships. In pre-marriage relationships (dating relationships) about 44% of women confessed to being the aggressors compared to 31% of men. For couples in marriage relationships, about 36% of women were found to be the aggressors compared to 27% of men in marriages about 18 months old. At the 30-month period, about 32% of women and 25% of men were violent.
It was also found that the modal form of physical aggression in both men and women were pushing, shoving and slapping. The researchers had also found out various different forms of physical aggression including kicking, biting or hitting with objects and even threatening with a knife or a gun.
In this aspect, it is important to mention a few other studies in this area. In 1980, Straus et al. found that age and income were negatively correlated with physical aggression.
Design of the experiment
In this longitudinal study of spousal violence, the researchers recruited 272 couples from before their marriage and then studied spousal violence pattern until 30-months of their marriage. They also assessed relationship satisfaction and spousal aggression across these 30-month period. Researchers found that marriages that had repeated physical violence, were uniformly discordant. Surprisingly, many of these couples whose marriage was rocked by violence didn’t view their relationship as discordant.
Couples were recruited through media advertisements and were paid based on each complete assessment sessions.
It is also pertinent to mention here that most respondents were having less than a high school degree and thus an education level study could not be done. However, the researchers mentioned a study by Strauss and others (1980) that found that the influence of the level of education was very small in spousal violence. However, in different studies conducted in India, we did find a significant difference in spousal violence with education.
The couples were made to take a self-assessment questionnaire in different rooms in the presence of a research assistant. One-third of all couples were interviewed.
Impact of Stable Aggression on Marital Satisfaction
One very important aspect of the study was to find out the impact of stable and sustained aggression on a couple’s marital satisfaction. The researchers had the following observations –
- 17% of women and 8% of men were identified as stably aggressive
- 50% of men and 39% of women were not aggressive in any assessment period
- Both men and women who were partners of a stably aggressive person reported lower marital satisfaction scores than that of people who were partners of a non-violent spouse.
- For both men and women, there was a significant decrease in marital satisfaction over time.
- 30% of partners of stably aggressive men and 24% partners of stably aggressive women fell below the SMAT cutoff  to indicate a clinically distressed person.
- Only 11% and 9% partners of non-aggressive men and women were dissatisfied with their marriage after 30-months of the nuptial bond.
From the last two points mentioned above, it is clear that whether there is aggression or not, a higher percentage of women compared to men do not feel happy in their marriage. This is probably an indication that men search for more emotional support in a relationship than women.
The researchers have also studied the behaviour of exclusive or unprovoked violence by the spouses. It was found that women were more aggressive in all studies. In dating or pre-marriage relationships, only 13% of men engaged in intimate partner violence compared to 26% of women. For couples who were married for 18-months, 8% men and 17% of women were found to be aggressive whereas, for couples who were 30-month into the marital bond, 9% of men and 16% of women were found to be aggressive towards their partners.
This pattern of unprovoked violence breaks the myth that women are less aggressive compared to men in a relationship. Rather it confirms that women are more aggressive in a relationship.
It is indeed a concern that domestic violence for some mysterious reason is not looked into as a gender-neutral issue. Most studies before 1990 used to consider this offence as gender-neutral and researches done on this subject tried to find out which gender was involved in violence. However, after 1990 the majority of studies and policies made were gender-biased despite the fact that women were found to be more violent than men in relationships. Even TMF did a nationwide survey in India on domestic violence against men recently, in which we found startling facts about DV against men. (detailed here).
These studies confirm that there is an immediate need to change our perspective about domestic violence and ensure that justice is upheld rather than gender-hatred.
- Prevalence and Suitability of Physical Aggression between Spouses: A Longitudinal Analysis – K Daniel O’Leary, Julian Barling, Ileana Arias and Alan Rosenbaum of Department of Psychology; Jean Malone and Andrea Tyree of Department of Sociology of State University of New York at Stony Brook.
- Jourilis E. N, Ramirez R R and O’Leary K D – Short Marital Adjustment Test: Psychometric Properties and Cutting Scores. (unpublished)
A 2019 study shows women are not only more aggressive but also more controlling than men – Here