Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 263–272 | Cite as

No One Type of Intimate Partner Abuse: Exploring Physical and Non-Physical Abuse Among Intimate Partners

  • Maureen OutlawEmail author
Original Article


Although research into intimate partner abuse has expanded throughout the past several decades and increased our understanding of this multi-faceted phenomenon, the vast majority of empirical work is still focused almost exclusively on physical violence—against women in particular. Although a crucial issue in our society, physical violence against women is only one facet in an array of possible abusive behaviors toward an intimate partner. Researchers have long acknowledged the existence of multiple forms of non-physical abuse. These types of abuse have received little research attention, however, and are commonly lumped together simply as “non-physical” or “emotional” abuse. There is no reason to believe, however, that all forms of non-physical abuse are the same, whether in intensity, frequency, or co-existence with physical violence. The current study attempts to disentangle the multiple types of nonviolent abuse to examine prevalence, differences by sex, and its relationships to physical abuse. Using Tjaden and Thoennes’ (1998) survey data, this study examines the prevalence of different types of non-physical abuse, both in the general population and among those experiencing physical violence Findings indicate that non-physical partner abuse is more common than physical and that non-physical abuse does not show striking sex differences, as is commonly believed. There is strong evidence that some types of non-physical abuse serve as clear risk factors for physical abuse and may increase risk of more frequent violence among those already being abused. These relationships do not, however, differ by sex. Implications for future research are discussed.


Intimate partner violence Non-physical abuse Sex differences in abuse 


  1. Coker, A., Smith, P. H., McKeown, R. E., & King, M. (2000). Frequency and correlates of intimate partner violence by type: physical, sexual, and psychological battering. American Journal of Public Health, 90(4), 553–560. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.90.4.553.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Dobash, R. E., & Dobash, R. P. (1998). Violent men and violent contexts. In R. E. Dobash & R. P. Dobash (Eds.), Rethinking violence against women, pp. 141–168. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Felson, R. (1996). Big people hit little people: sex differences in physical power and interpersonal violence. Criminology, 34, 433–452. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1996.tb01214.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Felson, R., & Outlaw, M. (2007). The control motive and marital violence. Violence and Victims, 22(4), 3–24, August.Google Scholar
  5. Follingstad, D. R., & Dehart, D. (2000). Defining psychological abuse of husbands toward wives: contexts, behaviors, typologies. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 15(9), 891–921. doi: 10.1177/088626000015009001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Follingstad, D. R., Rutledge, L. L., Berg, B. J., Hause, E. S., & Polek, D. S. (1990). The role of emotional abuse in physically abusive relationships. Journal of Family Violence, 5(2), 107–120. doi: 10.1007/BF00978514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Haj-Yahia, M. (2000). The incidence of wife abuse and battering and some sociodemographic correlates as revealed by two national surveys in Palestinian society. Journal of Family Violence, 15(4), 347–374. doi: 10.1023/A:1007554229592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jacobson, N., & Gottman, J. (1998). When men batter women: New insights into ending abusive relationships. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  9. Johnson, M. P. (1995). Patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence: two forms of violence against women. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 283–294. doi: 10.2307/353683.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Johnson, M. P., & Ferraro, K. (2000). Research on domestic violence in the 1990’s: making distinctions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 948–963. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2000.00948.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kirkwood, C. (1993). Leaving abusive partners: From the scars of survival to the wisdom for change. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  12. Michalski, J. (2004). Making sociological sense out of trends in intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women, 10(6), 653–675. doi: 10.1177/1077801204265018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Miller, M. S. (1995). No visible wounds: Identifying nonphysical abuse of women by their men, p. 307. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  14. Nosek, M., Hughes, R., Taylor, H., & Taylor, P. (2006). Disability, psychosocial, and demographic characteristics of abused women with disabilities. Violence Against Women, 12(9), 838–850. doi: 10.1177/1077801206292671.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Renzetti, C. (1992). Violent betrayal: Partner abuse in lesbian relationships. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  16. Stets, J. E. (1991). Cohabiting and marital aggression: the role of social isolation. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53(3), 669–680. doi: 10.2307/352742.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Stets, J. E. (1993). Control in dating relationships. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 55(3), 673–685. doi: 10.2307/353348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Strauchler, O., McCloskey, K., Malloy, K., Sitaker, M., Grigsby, N., & Gillig, P. (2004). Humiliation, manipulation, and control: evidence of centrality in domestic violence against an adult partner. Journal of Family Violence, 19(6), 339–346. doi: 10.1007/s10896-004-0679-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Straus, M. A., & Gelles, R. J. (1990). Physical violence in American families: Risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8, 145 families, Chaps 1 & 2. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Google Scholar
  20. Swan, S., & Snow, D. (2002). A typology of women’s use of violence in intimate relationships. Violence Against Women, 8(3), 286–319. doi: 10.1177/10778010222183071.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (1998). Prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey (NCJ 172837). Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.Google Scholar
  22. Van Wyk, J., Benson, M., Fox, G. L., & DeMaris, A. (2003). Detangling individual-, partner-, and community-level correlates of partner violence. Crime and Delinquency, 49(3), 412–438.Google Scholar
  23. Yount, K. (2005). Resources, family organization, and domestic violence against married women in Minya, Egypt. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(3), 579–596.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Howley HallProvidence CollegeProvidenceUSA

Personalised recommendations