Under a Friendly Spell

How friends influence us, for better and for worse, throughout life.

Battering: Dangerous Dependency

A surprising characteristic of abusive men.

A disheartening new CDC report states that nearly a quarter of women in the United States have been victims of domestic violence. Furthermore, these women have more health problems than those who haven't experienced abuse at the hands of their romantic partners—an indication that the chronic stress of living in a threatening environment takes a marked toll on one's body.

Not surprisingly, women who rely on their men for money are at a greater risk of suffering from domestic-partner abuse. But while we may imagine these abusive men as strong, independent uber-machos, Robert Bornstein of Adelphi University concluded in his review study that men who are emotionally dependent on their partners are more likely to be abusers.

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Bornstein defines emotional dependence as "a marked need for nurturance, protection, and support, even in situations in which a person is capable of functioning autonomously and meeting challenges on his or her own." Again, we think of a dependent person as a weak, passive, helpless creature—but studies show that emotionally dependent men are highly jealous, possessive in relationships, and have trouble managing their anger.

The complicated dynamic at play in these relationships—one that often begs the question, "Why doesn't she leave him?" needs more teasing out. Most frustrating is the downward spiralling pattern dangerously dependent couples follow. Bornstein points out that repeated abuse, for example, may actually cause the woman to be more economically dependent. Depressed, physically depleted, and robbed of her self-confidence, she will have a harder time securing employment or performing well at her job as the violence at home increases, making her feel more trapped than ever.

 

Carlin Flora is a journalist in New York City. She was a member of PT's staff from 2004-2011, most recently as Features Editor.

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