Domestic violence in relation to family of origin and adult characteristics

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Mellisa A. Clawson


Domestic violence, Family of origin

Subject Categories

Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Criminology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Gender and Sexuality | Substance Abuse and Addiction


The purpose of the current study was to examine the relationships between different factors in the male and female partner's family of origin and adult functioning which have been empirically linked to violence within the coupled relationship. A comprehensive analysis of both partners' families of origin (i.e., distal factors) and adult individual characteristics (i.e., proximal factors) must be taken into account in relation to this multidimensional issue.

To date, no one theory has been able to fully explain the causes of domestic violence (Lee & Weinstein, 1997). A multiple theoretical approach offers a more comprehensive lens with which to view families coping with domestic violence. Systems and feminist theories both acknowledge the contribution of various contextual factors as well as interpersonal processes; however, even with a combined feminist-informed systems orientation, these theories are limited in providing an understanding of divergent individual causes of male violence (Golder, Pen, Sheinberg, & Walker, 1990). Understanding of the individualized causation for violent behavior may be enhanced by the awareness of the developmental processes of relational bonds and the role of internal working models in the transmission of violent behavior. The application of the attachment framework to the issue of violence introduces the notion of cumulative effects of separation and loss as impacting violent behavior. Attachment theory also acknowledges the individual's subjective experience in relationships (i.e., internal working models) which guide the individual's appraisal of and responses to significant others.

The primary investigation team of Blane, Miller, Leonard, Nochajski, Bowers, and Gondoli (1988) selected participants from all male parolees in Western New York during January through June of 1987. Of the 196 parolees in the study, 91 male parolee-partner couples completed all the components of the interview necessary for this present secondary data reanalysis. Four central themes were measured in this investigation: violence, alcohol problems, attachment, and personality attributes. Two of these themes, violence and alcohol problems were assessed in the couple's family of origin as well as their current relationship. Attachment to primary caregivers were explored in relation to both the parolee and partner. The remaining theme, personality attribute was assessed with respect to the parolee's history.

Five hypotheses were tested to address the association between distal factors (i.e., family of origin alcohol problems, violence, attachment), and proximal factors (i.e., alcohol problems, personality attributes), in relation to violence in the adult couple. Within each factor, subscales were utilized to maximize specificity with which linkages may occur. Bivariate correlations revealed an association between parolee's childhood child abuse and personality attributes in adulthood, such as father's overall aggression, and more specifically, father's physical aggression were significantly correlated with parolee adult psychiatric problem identification. Interestingly, parolee emotional disturbance was associated with parolee physical aggression toward his mate. (Abstract shortened.)


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