Domestic Abuse: abusers who want to stay in relationships they find unsatisfactory


This week’s blog examines factors which might predict levels of relationship satisfaction amongst abusive men who remaining in abusive relationships and also likelihood of continuity of an abusive relationship.

Perpetrator perspectives have “implications for risk assessment and safety planning with victims”.


This blog will focus on the 2010 paper by Kris Henning and Jennifer Connor-Smith[i] which is unusual in that it considers the barriers and levers to leaving abusive relationships and relationship satisfaction not from the perspective of victims but from that of abusers.

The study considered a large sample of 1,130 males in theUS, all of whom had been convicted of domestic offence against a female intimate partner over a 3 year period. The sample was of low income, mostly African American (85%) males.

Factors Measured

The following factors were measured. Some were predictors of relationship continuity and some of relationship satisfaction, others were not. 

Key Factor Parameters Significant for Relationship Continuity? Significant for Relationship Satisfaction? Lower or Higher Relationship Satisfaction?
  • Age
X (older)    
  • Race
  • Level of Education
  X (Limited to contribution to power imbalance below)
  • Current Employment Status
  • Socio-economic status (median household income) 
Relationship Investment/ Commitment
  • Duration of relationship
  • Marriage
  • Children
X (having children together) X Lower
Victim Aggression      X Lower
Family of Origin Violence   X X Lower
Attributions and attitudes 
  • Hostility towards women
  X Lower
  • Jealousy
  X Lower
  • Victim blame
X (low levels) X Lower
Power Imbalance 
  • Worked fewer hours
  • 5 or more years younger
  • Less education
  X Higher if victim is better educated

Incomplete Picture

Care must be taken about drawing conclusions about factors relating to race and socio economic status as the group of men in this study were overwhelmingly from African American and low status backgrounds. 

Similarly, one must consider that in relation to victim aggression and attributions and attitudes that the men were all convicted of offences and theses factors were tested within the confines of a mandated programme of rehabilitation. In other words, there could have been a tendency to over-report victim aggression and to under-report hostility towards women and jealousy. 

Key Issues for Reducing Repeat Incidents of Domestic Abuse

The presence of children in a household is a significant issue and work to develop parenting skills and address some relationship dissatisfaction has the potential to reap significant rewards not only in reduced domestic abuse in the current relationship but also in terms of the social and emotional development of the children in the household.

Attitudes of men appear to be more significant issues than demographic factors. This is consistent with other research which shows that domestic abuse is a significant problem for victims across all socioeconomic groups (although distribution is not equal and is concentrated more towards lower socioeconomic groups).

[i] DOI: 10.1177/0886260510369132 J Interpers Violence published online 28 June 2010

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *