Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 25, Issue 5, pp 495–508 | Cite as

Is Psychological Abuse Reciprocal in Intimate Relationships? Data from a National Sample of American Adults

Original Article


A national sample of adults in the United States reported on presence, frequency, emotional impact, and behavioral impact of psychologically abusive behaviors in their “worst” cohabiting relationship by their partner as well as by themselves. In addition, they completed instrumentation measuring potential outcomes from much psychological maltreatment. Results from the online survey indicated that psychological abuse of an egregious nature was highly reciprocal, although overall, respondents reported that they engaged in psychological abuse less frequently than their partners and believed that their partners experienced much less negative impact from the respondents’ actions. Specific categories of psychological abuse as well as specific behaviors were also highly likely to be reciprocated. Combinations of high and low psychological abuse exhibited by the respondent and his/her partner resulted in negative outcomes whenever the partner was high in psychological abuse whether or not the respondent used these egregious tactics.


Psychological abuse Intimate partner violence Psychological aggression Reciprocal abuse 


  1. Archer, J. (2000). Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review. Psychol Bull, 126, 651–680.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Brennan, K. A., Clark, C. L., & Shaver, P. R. (1998). Self-report measurement of adult attachment: An integrative overview. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  3. Coker, A. L., Pope, B. O., Smith, P. H., Sanderson, M., & Hussey, J. R. (2001). Assessment of clinical partner violence screening tools. J Am Med Womens Assoc, 56(1), 19–23.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Cordova, J. V., Jacobson, N. S., Gottman, J. M., Rushe, R., & Cox, G. (1993). Negative reciprocity and communication in couples with a violent husband. J Abnorm Psychol, 102(4), 559–564.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Dutton, D. G. (2006). Rethinking domestic violence. Vancouver: UBC.Google Scholar
  6. Edwards, A. L. (1957). The social desirability variable in personality assessment and research. Ft Worth: Dryden.Google Scholar
  7. Follingstad, D. R. (2007). Rethinking current approaches to psychological abuse: Conceptual and methodological issues. Aggress Violent Behav, 12(4), 439–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Follingstad, D. R. (2011). A measure of severe psychological abuse normed on a nationally representative sample of adults. Journal of Interpersonal Violence (in press).Google Scholar
  9. 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. J Fam Violence, 5, 107–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fraley, R. C., Waller, N. G., & Brennan, K. A. (2000). An item-response theory analysis of self-report measures of adult attachment. J Pers Soc Psychol, 78(2), 350–365.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Graham-Kevan, N., & Archer, J. (2003). Physical aggression and control in heterosexual relationships: The effect of sampling. Violence Vict, 18(2), 181–196.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Hamby, S. L. (2005). Measuring gender differences in partner violence: Implications from research on other forms of violent and socially undesirable behavior. Sex Roles, 52(11/12), 725–742.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hamel, J. (2009). Toward a gender-inclusive conception of intimate partner violence research and theory: Part 2—New directions. Int J Mens Health, 8(1), 41–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hoffman, P. (1984). Psychological abuse of women by spouses and live-in lovers. Women and Ther, 3(1), 37–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Houry, D., Rhodes, K. V., Kemball, R. S., Click, L. A., Cerulli, C., McNutt, L. A., et al. (2008). Differences in female and male victims and perpetrators of partner violence with respect to WEB scores. J Interpers Violence, 23(8), 1041–1055.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Hunsley, J., Best, M., Lefebvre, M., & Vito, D. (2001). The seven-item short form of the dyadic adjustment scale: Further evidence for construct validity. Am J Fam Ther, 29, 325–335.Google Scholar
  17. Johnson, M. P. (1995). Patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence: Two forms of violence against women. J Marriage Fam, 57, 283–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Johnson, M. P., & Ferraro, K. J. (2000). Research on domestic violence in the 1990s: Making distinctions. J Marriage Fam, 62, 948–963.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kowalski, R. M. (2001). Behaving badly: Aversive behaviors in interpersonal relationships. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Myers, D. G. (2002). Social psychology (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  21. Paulhus, D. L. (1988). Assessing self deception and impression management in self-reports: The Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding. Vancouver: University of British Columbia.Google Scholar
  22. Rollstin, A. O., & Kern, J. M. (1998). Correlates of battered women’s psychological distress: Severity of abuse and duration of the postabuse period. Psychol Rep, 82, 387–394.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Rosen, K. H., Stith, S. M., Few, A. L., Daly, K. L., & Tritt, D. R. (2005). A qualitative investigation of Johnson’s typology. Violence Vict, 20(3), 319–334.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Russell, R. J. H., & Hulson, B. (1992). Physical and psychological abuse of heterosexual partners. Pers Individ Differ, 13(4), 457–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sabourin, T. C. (1995). The role of negative reciprocity in spouse abuse: A relational control analysis. J Appl Commun Res, 23, 271–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Sackett, L. A., & Saunders, D. G. (2001). The impact of different forms of psychological abuse on battered women. In K. D. O’Leary & R. D. Maiuro (Eds.), Psychological abuse in violent domestic relations. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  27. Sears, H. A., Byers, E. S., & Price, E. L. (2007). The co-occurrence of adolescent boys’ and girls’ use of psychologically, physically, and sexually abusive behaviours in their dating relationships. J Adolesc, 30(3), 487–504.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Sibley, C. G., Fischer, R., & Liu, J. H. (2005). Reliability and validity of the revised Experiences in Close Relationships self-report measure of adult romantic attachment. Pers Soc Psychol Bull, 31(11), 1524–1536.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Simpson, L. E., Doss, B. D., Wheeler, J., & Christensen, A. (2007). Relationship violence among couples seeking therapy: Common couple violence or battering? J Marital Fam Ther, 33(2), 270–283.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Smith, P. H., Earp, J. A., & DeVellis, R. (1995). Measuring battering: Development of the Women’s Experience with Battering (WEB) scale. Womens Health Issues, 5, 173–182.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Spanier, G. B. (1976). Measuring dyadic adjustment: New scales for assessing the quality of marriage and similar dyads. J Marriage Family, 38, 15–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Straus, M. A., & Ramirez, I. L. (2007). Gender symmetry in prevalence, severity, and chronicity of physical aggression against dating partners by university students in Mexico and USA. Aggress Behav, 33, 281–290.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Taft, C. T., O’Farrell, T. J., Torres, S. E., Panuzio, J., Monson, C. M., Murphy, M., et al. (2006). Examining the correlates of psychological aggression among a community sample of couples. J Fam Psychol, 20(4), 581–588.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Tolman, R. M. (1992). Psychological abuse of women. In R. T. Ammerman & M. Hersen (Eds.), Assessment of family violence: A clinical and legal sourcebook. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  35. Whitaker, D. J., Haileyesus, T., Swahn, M., & Saltzman, L. S. (2007). Differences in frequency of violence and reported injury between relationships with reciprocal and nonreciprocal intimate partner violence. Am J Public Health, 97(5), 941–947.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Research on Violence Against WomenUniversity of Kentucky Department of PsychiatryLexingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryUK Medical CollegeLexingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations