Psychological Abuse Linked to Income and Education

research-toxic-relationshipIt’s your fault for dating or marrying “down”, if you accept that having a higher income or education than your partner increases the chance of psychological violence and abuse.

According to a recent study on violence and relationships pu, “Whenever power is unevenly allocated in a relationship the chance of physical and psychological abuse increases. And the abused partner is the one with the highest status”. This applies to both men and women, though women with a higher income than their partner also have an increased risk of experiencing physical abuse.

“Previous studies have looked primarily at physical abuse. They have also included some types of psychological violence such as control and threats of physical violence, but they have not distinguished these psychological acts of violence as a category in itself. When I distinguish between psychological and physical acts of violence, the psychological factor is becoming much clearer and the results become more nuanced,” says the researcher Bjelland, a PhD student at The Norwegian Police University College.

“The fact that men with a higher socio-economic status than their partner have an increased risk of experiencing abuse in their relationships was very surprising, since it conflicts with international studies within the same field.”

Defining resources such as income and education, Bjelland says, “This implies that intimate partner violence may be all about trying to change the power balance.” She believes that much of the intimate partner violence is a type of contrapower strategy towards a stronger partner.

“Violence or control is used as a compensation for the partner’s weak position in the relationship, and may thus be regarded as an attempt to balance what is perceived as an uneven division of power.”

Such power strategies are often referred to in sociology as conscious tactics. Bjelland is not convinced that these strategies are as premeditated as the theory implies.

“Perhaps the abuse in some cases has to do with an unconscious fear of losing a partner which is more attractive “on the market” due to his or her socio-economic status.”

The most frequent type of psychological abuse or partner violence in the survey had to do with the partner wanting to know where the other part is, who they’re with and when they’re due back home. The second most common type was jealous behavior and attempts to restrict the other part’s social interaction with friends and family.

“It is not uncommon to want to know where one’s partner is and when he or she might be home; when does this become psychological violence?”

“There is no clear answer to that. But this does not have to do with everyday random questions about where someone has been. When the interviewees describe their partners as being inquisitive regarding these things, it is reasonable to assume that it is a type of violation and an attempt to restrict the partner’s freedom. This is a common way of identifying psychological violence in studies on intimate partner violence,” says Bjelland.

According to Bjelland, another explanation may be stress and frustration related to society’s views on masculinity and femininity, and the feeling of not being able to live up to expectations related to traditional gender roles.

“Men with lower status than their partner may feel that they are not living up to the traditional gender role. This may cause stress and frustration which again may lead to escalating conflicts which end in physical violence towards their partner.”

Bjelland believes that the physical violence in many of these cases revolves around situational conflicts and outbursts caused by anger and frustration rather than conscious power strategies.

“In these situations I presume that men relate to traditional gender role norms, but I wish to emphasize that this analysis does not necessarily apply to all men on an individual basis.”

“The connection between power, gender and violence is very complex, and there are several mechanisms at play. Contrapower strategies, for instance, do not apply so much to relationships practicing traditional gender roles.”

One of the finds in the study is that women with the same status as their partner more often experience intimate partner violence than women with lower status. Bjelland believes this may indicate that also having the same status may be perceived by some as conflicting with traditional gender roles in relationships.

“This find should, on the other hand, be analysed with special care, since the data material is scarce,” Bjelland underlines.

“I believe that one have to look at relational factors in order to understand partner violence. The violence occurs in the relation between the two partners. One has to look at the couple as a unity, not just at the individual.”

Since the relationship is a part of a society, the sociologist is also of the opinion that one has to examine the violence in light of society’s gender and power structures.

“It is important to always keep this context in mind,” emphasizes Bjelland.

More about this study can be found on

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