Slap and Shove Down the Aisle of Rough Love

Adele Horin
The Sydney Morning Herald
5 March 2011

A surprising number of newlyweds resort to slapping, pushing or punching their partner, and women are often the perpetrators, a report shows.

The study of 379 recently married couples shows 22 per cent reported at least one act of low-level violence in the year leading to and including their wedding. Most acts involved slapping and shoving rather than punching.

“People don’t see this as a problem – at least not sufficient a problem that would stop them getting married,” said Kim Halford, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Queensland, and the lead author.

The study, Relationship Aggression, Violence and Self-regulation in
Australian Newlywed Couples, shows female violence is at least as common as male violence, with the most usual patterns being female-only violence, followed by both partners being violent. Professor Halford said female violence was often trivialised, especially in films and television where women were sometimes shown slapping a man to no detriment.

But such behaviour was risky because it was usually women who ended up injured and feeling intimidated. “If you don’t want to get hit, don’t hit,” he said. “It’s a really bad idea for people to hit each other, regardless of gender.”

Professor Halford said spouses who lost control to the extent that they slapped or shoved, let alone punched their partner, were courting danger,
not only physical but to their relationship. The more often couples lashed
out, the more likely injury would result.

He said low-level violence was also a strong predictor of couples
eventually breaking up.

A second study, not yet released, shows low-level violence is even more
common among couples where the woman is pregnant. Based on 250 couples, 30
per cent report at least one incident of slapping, shoving or punching in
the previous 12 months. Again, women were slightly more likely to be the

Professor Halford said pregnancy could be a high-risk time for depression
and emotional volatility. It brought issues of commitment into sharp relief
and men felt under pressure over finances. “If it’s not a good idea
generally to hit out, it’s a very bad idea when a woman is pregnant.”

Professor Halford said the more effort couples put into improving their
relationship, the less likely frustration would spill over into physical

It was important for couples to make time to enjoy themselves together and
to pay attention to each other’s desires and needs. “Talk to your partner
so you know what’s going on in their world, and if they’re having a hard
time, do things to help them out and be a more effective team.”

The first study showed the couples reported high levels of relationship
satisfaction even when there was low-level violence. Professor Halford said
violence often started early in a relationship, even when people were dating.

But people should take action to improve the relationship and, if the
aggression continued, consider leaving. “People take the view it doesn’t
matter, it’s minor. But it is a predictor of significant relationship
problems and deteriorating satisfaction.”