Spousal violence is among the most difficult crimes to study as the statistics are specifically related to the willingness and ability of the victim to report the abuse. The privacy of the home is considered to be a primary right of the residents and therefore, without personal accounts of this abuse, the violence continues and often escalates. Dutton and Nicholls (2005) explained that, although Canada promotes gender empowerment for women, these initiatives and social structures do little to minimize the occurrences of spousal violence. Furthermore, while the focus of spousal violence is generally given towards women as the victims, Dutton and Nicholls (2005) reported that Canadian women have stated that they had also initiated the violence while others suggested that the violence was reciprocated by both spouses. As violence in the home has negative implications for the immediate victims, bystanders such as children, and members of society through the perceived acceptance of abuse, it is important that a causation is determined and a solution implemented.
The notion of finding a cause for spousal abuse is not new as numerous theorists and researchers have attempted to gain a better understanding of this social phenomenon of violent behavior. As the changes in society occur, new theories emerge while more traditional theories are reassessed and applied to the continued problem of spousal abuse. Yet, despite these attempts to comprehend the violence between two individuals who have vowed commitment to one another, society is left without answers and, therefore, without an adequate solution. However, it is possible to review these theories and work towards a cohesive comprehension by applying elements from each to produce a clearer picture. For this reason, this researcher has found the Resource Theory, Social Learning Theory, and Ecological Theory to be the most applicable theories to determine the causation of spousal violence.
The first theory that will be applied to the social problem of spousal violence is the Resource Theory. According to Ali and Naylor (2013), the Resource Theory suggests that the spouse who brings the most resources into the marriage has more power over the other spouse. The spouse with the lower level of resources may be prone to aggression in an effort to assert their dominance despite this status in the relations. Ali and Naylor (2013) continued to explain that women who earn more income than their husbands or have a higher level of education are actually more likely to be the victims of spousal violence as the men fuel their desire for dominance through violence. While this theory has been questioned regarding violence continuing in a patriarchal society whereas the men are more frequently the primary income earner, it is important to recognize that society has shifted to becoming less patriarchal, Dutton and Nicholls (2005) established that women can also be abusers, and same-sex marriages can be included under the Resource Theory.
The second theory that will be applied to the social problem of spousal violence is the Social Learning Theory. Ali and Naylor (2013) explained that this theory is based on the idea that people continue behaviors that they have learned through observation and social acceptance. Stith et al. (2000) found this theory to be related to intergenerational transmission of domestic violence whereas the abuser grew up in home in the presence of domestic violence, perhaps even being a victim themselves, and then mimicked this behavior as an adult under the perception that spousal violence is a normal behavior. While the researchers have yet to come to an agreement as to whether witnessing violence has the same outcome as being abused, this theory would suggest that the learned behavior comes from the awareness of violence as an acceptable behavior regardless as to whether they were victimized. This would suggest that any observation of spousal violence could lead to either the observer becoming the abuser or the victim. Perhaps the reciprocated violence discussed by Dutton and Nicholls (2005) could be evaluated as further support for this claim.
The third theory that will be applied to the social problem of spousal violence is the Ecological Theory. Slep, Foran, and Heyman (2014) explained that the risks associated with being a victim of spousal violence are broken down into four levels of the Ecological Theory. These levels include individual, family, work-related, and community constructs. As in the ecological studies related to the environment, the Ecological Theory recognizes the interrelatedness of each of these levels (Ali & Naylor, 2013). In other words, there are no single causes for spousal abuse but rather the occurrences are dependent on multiple factors. This means that simply living in a patriarchal society would not indicate that spousal violence will occur but minimal coping skills coupled with alcohol abuse and minimal community support could lead to such occurrences (Slep, Foran, & Heyman, 2014). Yet, Ali and Naylor (2013) continued to explain that the overlap of these varying factors makes it difficult to formulate a blanket solution as each of the factors would need to be addressed. However, for the purpose of understanding why spousal violence occurs and why the victims face challenges in reporting these crimes, the Ecological Theory provides significant insight to this social problem.
Through the three explored theories, it has become apparent that the violence that occurs behind closed doors is not simply caused by problems between the two partners. The violence has not begun at home but rather through a social emphasis on resources that have driven the competitive nature between the partners, a history of being victimized or observing violence as a normal behavior, a community that accepts this behavior as being normalized, and an interrelatedness of these factors that collectively swell into the occurrences of spousal violence. With the understanding that learned and accepted behavior is fostered in the community, it is necessary to consider the social environment through the same ecological perspective of the natural environment. Children who were raised in a violent home must be given the ability to maintain mental health and social support services into their adulthood with the same services being offered to their spouse. According to Goodman et al. (2016), the continued use of formal and informal services can help the victims to form positive relationships with other victims, their family members, and their spouses. Continued support will help to extend the aid from removal from an abusive situation to preventing the continuation of abuse into adulthood.
In sum, the Resource Theory, Social Learning Theory, and Ecological Theory were applied to determine the causation of spousal violence. The researcher found that the social support of resource conflict, along with the learned behavior of violence, has led to an environment that accepts spousal abuse as being a normal behavior. The support from the community has been established as a fundamental element in the ecological theory while the observation of violence has been determined to be as relevant as a history of victimization. The Resource Theory has been established as a divisionary line between the partners. Therefore, in order to provide community support, minimize the effects of childhood victimizations and observations of violence, and alleviate the divisionary line between the partners, this researcher proposes that adult services should be provided to those who experienced violence as a child as well as to their spouses. This will create a network that will support positive relations, diminish the occurrences of domestic violence, and, when necessary, provide a safe place to report these occurrences.
- Ali, P. A., & Naylor, P. B. (2013). Intimate partner violence: A narrative review of the feminist, social and ecological explanations for its causation. Aggression and Violent
Behavior, 18(6), 611-619.
- Dutton, D. G., & Nicholls, T. L. (2005). The gender paradigm in domestic violence research and theory: Part 1—The conflict of theory and data. Aggression and violent behavior, 10(6),
- Goodman, L. A., Banyard, V., Woulfe, J., Ash, S., & Mattern, G. (2016). Bringing a network-oriented approach to domestic violence services: A focus group exploration of promising practices. Violence against women, 22(1), 64-89.
- Slep, A. M., Foran, H. M., & Heyman, R. E. (2014). An ecological model of intimate
partner violence perpetration at different levels of severity. Journal of family psychology, 28(4), 470.
- Stith, S. M., Rosen, K. H., Middleton, K. A., Busch, A. L., Lundeberg, K., & Carlton, R. P.
(2000). The intergenerational transmission of spouse abuse: A meta‐analysis. Journal of
Marriage and Family, 62(3), 640-654.