Does Intimate Partner Aggression Decrease with Age?

Intimate partner violence and aggression are issues that have been studied at length in recent years. The prevalence of this type of violence is remarkably high, with some estimates suggesting that nearly one in five individuals have experienced some form of physical violence in the confines of a romantic relationship and more than three-quarters of people have been exposed to psychological aggression. Examples of aggression and violence include yelling, degrading or intimidating, or punching, hitting and slapping a partner. These types of abuse have been linked to personality issues such as borderline personality and antisocial tendencies.

Some of the factors that contribute to these behaviors include impulsivity, anger, risk taking, lack of empathy, and fear of abandonment. Although it has been established that these behaviors tend to diminish as individuals age, it is unclear whether or not the rate of abuse decreases in direct proportion. To determine if physical and emotional abuse decline in later life, Yana Weinstein of the Department of Psychology at Washington University led a study that looked at levels of abuse among individuals with borderline and antisocial personalities. For the study, Weinstein analyzed 872 middle-aged adults using self-reports, interviewer reports, and third-party reports.

The results of the study showed that levels of aggression were significantly higher for women than men. Weinstein said, “In our community sample of 55 to 64 year olds, we found borderline symptoms in women to be significantly related to partner aggression, regardless of who provided the personality assessment.” This aggression was determined to be influenced most significantly by unstable mood, identity problems, and abandonment issues. Although Weinstein considered alcohol dependency, socioeconomic status, and education in the calculations, these were not shown to impact aggression in this sample. When Weinstein looked at the antisocial participants, there was no evidence that irresponsibility or lack of empathy influenced psychological or physical aggression. In sum, Weinstein believes these findings demonstrate that individuals with borderline personalities may not see reductions in aggression as they age.

Weinstein, Y., Gleason, M. E. J., Oltmanns, T. F. (2012). Borderline but not antisocial personality disorder symptoms are related to self-reported partner aggression in late middle-age. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028994

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  • vick


    July 5th, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    I have lived with this with my wife for a long time, and I can assure you that as she has gotten older this has not let up.

    In fact right around the time that she hit fifty I think that it became even worse. I don’t understand why she takes everything out on me, when all I do is try to keep the house and anything else humming along so that she doesn’t have to worry with anything.

    But many times it feels like the more I do the more angry that she is and she ends up letting it all out on me.

  • Taylor Bridgeman

    Taylor Bridgeman

    July 6th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    puleaze- if this ever happens with a man of mine then I am not hanging around long enough to find out if it will go away or decrease with age-

    I am out the door!

  • Parker


    July 6th, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    I watched for years as my grandmother literally tormented my grandfather. There were so many times that she was mean to him I don’t know he stayed married to her for all of those years! I guess he loved her, but Lord knows she never acted like she loved him! She would say that she did but then she would always treat him like dirt so that the rest of us in the familiy were like what?!? Where does all of this annoyance and anger come from? I loved her to death but I guess because she never treated the grandkids that way, but living with that kind of abuse for all your adult life has to at some point wear you down to where you feel nothing or just become numb to it.

  • earl


    July 6th, 2012 at 10:06 PM

    once a partner abuser always one..there’s no easy letting go of a bad habit and it is no different in this scenario..I would never put up with an abusive partner,physical or psychological..just think a lot of these older folk continue because they have taken it to be their lives and think they have no power to change things or maybe they just don’t have the physical and mental energy to work towards a change..!

  • Serena


    July 7th, 2012 at 4:26 AM

    Yep, I agree with earl. People gemerally show you who they are very early on, but many of us refuse to see that. I don’t think that I would want to make that mistake with someone who showed me very early on in a relationship that they would have the tendency to abuse their partner. If they show me that side of themselves, then what do I expect? That I can make him change? That just because I love him that will be enough to make him stop? Nope, it doesn’t work that way. I am sure that there is some sort of treatment avaialbe that could help them heal, but if he doesn’t wnat it, then it will never work.

  • Jake F

    Jake F

    July 8th, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    If this sort of anger is something that this person has lived with all of their lives you would hope that as they got older they would mellow out a little and go from being angry to maybe being a little more thankful for their lives.

    Sadly though, most people just end up getting more bitter the older that they get, and dwell more on the things that they have not had instead of the things that they have.

  • JO


    July 9th, 2012 at 4:26 AM

    No matter what he said I don’t think that I could trust it

  • Maggie


    July 21st, 2012 at 8:55 PM

    I cannot tell from the above article with phrases such as “borderline symptoms in women to be significantly related to partner aggression” whether it means that the subjects were victims of aggression or were aggressors toward their partners. Another phrase, “levels of abuse among individuals with borderline and antisocial personalities” did not indicate whether the individuals were the abusers or abusers. Just saying it was not clear to me throughout.

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