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Co-Occurrence Between Marital Aggression and Parents' Child Abuse Potential: The Impact of Cumulative Stress

NCJ Number
Violence and Victims Volume: 18 Issue: 3 Dated: June 2003 Pages: 243-258
Gayla Margolin; Elana B. Gordis
Date Published
June 2003
16 pages
This document discusses cumulative family stresses and the association between marital aggression and parents’ child abuse potential.
This study highlights the importance of considering contextual factors when understanding the continuity of aggression across family relationships. The purpose was to examine whether cumulative stresses accompanied an increased association between husband-to-wife aggression and parents’ child abuse potential. It was hypothesized that the relation between husband-to-wife aggression and child abuse potential would increase in the context of more stress variables. Also, the question was explored whether cumulative stresses accompanied an increased association between wife-to-husband aggression and parents’ child abuse potential. Participants were 177 volunteer families in a large metropolitan area that had a 4- or 5-year-old child. Criteria for participation were both parents were residing in the family home, biological parents, able to read and speak English, and had a telephone. Measures were the Domestic Conflict Index, the Child Abuse Potential Inventory, and financial and parenting stress. The results show that women’s child abuse potential was low when husband-to-wife aggression was an isolated stressor in their lives. It was the combination of aggression from the husband combined with the accumulation of other stressors that, for some women, was related to child abuse potential. The accumulation of stress makes it difficult for husbands to compartmentalize their aggressive behavior such that husbands that are aggressive toward their wives and experiencing other significant stresses are also more likely to aggress against their children. Husband-to-wife aggression and wife-to-husband aggression are different phenomena, with different etiologies and different consequences. The more serious husband-to-wife aggression accounts for the vast majority of spousal-induced injury and is often part of a generalized pattern of control that includes psychological abuse as well as physical injury. Wife-to-husband aggression tends to be far less psychologically and physically injurious. Identifying factors that potentiate the co-occurrence of aggression across family subsystems may prove to be an important step in understanding and reducing family aggression. 2 figures, 4 tables, 52 references