Mother-Child Aggression Risk Factor for Future Intimate Partner Violence

Children who have experienced abuse are at risk for many negative life outcomes, one of which is intimate partner violence (IPV). There is an abundant amount of research showing how violence is cyclical and how many people who survive violent childhoods eventually find themselves perpetrating or becoming the victim of violence as adults. Often, this pattern continues from one generation to another. Knowing exactly what type of childhood abuse most significantly impacts future IPV could help clinicians better target individuals at risk. In an effort to better understand this relationship, Patti A. Timmons Fritz of the Department of Psychology at the University of Windsor led a study that examined different forms of family of origin aggression (FOA) as predictors of future violence.

Fritz analyzed 453 individuals who were in committed relationships with IPV and evaluated the levels of interparental aggression, mother-to-child aggression, father-to-child aggression, and other forms of domestic violence the participants had experienced during childhood. The most common type of FOA the participants had survived was interparental violence, underscoring the impact the parental dynamic has on future relationships. The second most common type of FOA that predicted IPV was mother-to-child aggression. Because children often model their mother’s relationship and bonding skills, witnessing this type of abuse could set the stage for dysfunction and cause individuals to develop an accepting attitude toward IPV and other forms of abuse in their adult relationships.

The study also revealed that the rates of IPV did not increase when both partners had FOA. This finding is particularly significant because many individuals will be drawn toward partners with similar backgrounds. However, the results revealed that when both partners came from homes with mother-to-child aggression or interparental aggression, their risk for IPV was much higher. Fritz also discovered that individuals who were exposed to multiple types of FOA were more vulnerable to IPV. Overall, she believes that these findings demonstrate that FOA directly influences the level of IPV in survivors, and understanding the particular dimension of FOA is vital when addressing the issue. Fritz added, “The current findings highlight the need to assess both members of the couple for FOA and to consider both members’ FOA experiences when targeting individuals and couples for prevention and intervention initiatives.”

Fritz, P. A. T., Slep, A. M. S., & O’Leary, K. D. (2012). Couple-Level Analysis of the Relation Between Family-of-Origin Aggression and Intimate Partner Violence. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027370

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  • sabrina


    March 9th, 2012 at 5:48 AM

    I know that we all get into these relationships and that for some unfortunate few they will turn violent. And I also know that women will sometimes saty in them because they do not feel like they have anywhere else to go. But to stay in them after you have children and allow them to see this? You can’t do that. You don’t want them to see this kind of abuse directed toward you, amd who knows when the partner may turn on the children as well?

  • Tina R

    Tina R

    March 9th, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    I can’t be the only person who reads something like this and wonders how on earth we ever got to this place. Kids should not be victims of abuse ot have to witness this kind of behavior and then have to carry it around like a ton of bricks for the rest of their lives! But due to the irresponsibility of the “adults” that they are being raised around, this is what is happening. They are seeing this kind of violent behavior or are experiencing it first hand and this is what they think that life is supposed to be. So then they are going to turn around and do it to someone else some day or they are going to feel like they have to continue to allow it to happen to them.

  • telly


    March 10th, 2012 at 8:15 AM

    this is such a cycle that it almost seems impossible to end

  • BRAD


    March 11th, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    Any form of violence witnessed by a child and stick in his mind.While something outside could be overcome t can b very tough if the violence has been from a family member.Seeing your mother or father or both get violent can be very troublesome for a child.

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