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Psychological Effects of Partner Abuse against Men

- A Neglected Research Area
Published in Psychology of Men and Masculinity Vol. 2 (2) July 2001 page 75 -- 85 American Psychological Association Inc. by Hines, Denise A. and Malley-Morrison, Kathleen. Email lead author: [email protected]


This article discusses the research on abuse against men in intimate relationships with a primary focus on the effects of this abuse. We begin by discussing the incidence of physical aggression against men, then address methodological and conceptual issues associated with the incidence data. We next review studies assessing the effects of aggression against men and discuss ways in which the research can be furthered and improved. Finally, we discuss why men would choose to stay in these relationships and consider the scant research on emotional abuse against men.

Extracts from this Paper:

Although there is a substantial research literature addressing abuse against women and its consequences, the flip side of this issue, physical abuse against men and its consequences, is a less researched area....... There has been almost no research on the consequences of this type of abuse. In this article, we will first review data on the prevalence of violence directed at husbands by wives. Although the exact rate of this abuse is open to debate, we argue that there are enough male victims of violence by their wives to warrant attention to the consequences of that violence. Next, we discuss the scant research that has been done on the consequences of this type of abuse and argue that more rigorous research is needed. Finally, we discuss two areas that have received even less attention: (a) why men stay in abusive relationships and (b) emotional abuse against men and its effects.

Incidence of Physical Abuse Toward Men

On average, women are injured more frequently and more severely at the hands of their husbands than men are at the hands of their wives. However, the fact that men can be injured at the hands of their significant others and that many times they are injured severely, should not be ignored.

Although we acknowledge that most battered women's use of violence is in self-defence, the bulk of the research on motivations for violence in intimate relationships has shown that self-defence is not the motivation for women's violence in the majority of cases.

There has been some recognition by researchers who do not use the CTS [Conflict Tactics Scale] that husband abuse may indeed be a problem that can be categorised as a serious social concern. For instance, while treating the clients of a male batterer's program, Stacey, Hazelwood, and Shupe (1994) found that many of their cases were actually cases of mutual abuse. They found that many couples tended to be mutually abusive and that the roles of victim and perpetrator were constantly shifting. In addition, when studying the responses of police officers in their study, Stacey et al. reported that the police would arrest the man as the batterer if the women were the abuser because there was no counselling program for women available. The police hoped that, by arresting the man, they could get the couple into a program. The assumption was that if they arrested the wife, no counselling would be mandated and the husband would generally drop the charges. However because the man was arrested, he had to sign a statement that labelled him as the violent perpetrator. This lack of help for women who abuse their husbands is quite common.

Several studies have indicated that violence by women may be increasing. A longitudinal study of 272 newlywed couples, found....... a rate 3 - 4 times that found in the 1975 and 1985 [USA] National Family Violence Surveys..... In 8% - 13% of the violent marriages, the husband was the sole perpetrator of the abuse, whereas in 16% - 26% of the violent marriages, the wife was the sole perpetrator.

In the longitudinal National Youth Survey of 1,725 young adults, Morse (1995) found........ rates for minor physical violence [by females] 2 - 4 times greater than the rate found in the National Family Violence Surveys, and rates for severe physical violence 3 - 5 times greater..... Men were the sole perpetrators in 9.9% - 13.9% of the couples and women were the sole perpetrators in 29.7% - 37.7% of the couples.

Psychological Effects

In her longitudinal study, Morse (1995) found that 9.5% of the younger males and 13.5% of the older males reported experiencing fear in their violent relationships.

Stets and Straus (1990) found that abused men were significantly more likely to experience psychosomatic symptoms, stress, and depression than nonabused men.

None of the studies in the current literature seem to consider that the dynamics of a mutually abusive relationship may be very different from the dynamics of a relationship in which the man is the sole victim.

Why Do They Stay?

In addition to being committed to the marriage, many men refuse to leave an abusive situation because of their children. Because abuse of husbands is a relatively unrecognised, it is difficult for abused men to use this defense in court to obtain custody of their children (assuming that they are willing to admit they are abused). In addition, mothers usually are awarded custody. Many abused men refuse to leave for fear of leaving their children with abusive women. They believe that if they stay, they can at least protect the children if necessary.


Research is sorely needed in the area of emotional abuse against men. The research so far has shown that it occurs in a large percentage of relationships, and one quantitative and to quantitative studies have demonstrated that emotionally abused men can experience depression, psychological distress, alcoholism, PTSD, weight loss, fear, and self blame. However, more research in this area is desperately needed.

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