Invisible Harm: Partner Aggression | ACES

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Dee Friesen | Arts + Life Editor

“One of the reasons I study relationships is because I think they’re really important to understand,” Dr. Arriaga said.

Dr. Arriaga is a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University. Her teachings are based around her study of relationships. She began her talk by asking the question, “Why study romantic relationships?” She answered with, “Because they really matter. Because they make a difference in people’s lives.”

Before I go on, I want to stress the importance of this subject. In Dr. Arriaga’s studies, she found that 12-15% of college students report physical aggression in their relationships. 80% of college students report psychological aggression. Those are only the percentages of students that report the aggression. There are probably students that do not.

Dr. Arriaga explained the difference between physical and psychological aggression. Most of us understand what physical aggression is. Psychological aggression can be more complex. Some examples include: belittling behavior, put downs, insults, derogatory names, screaming, being overly possessive, forbidding interactions with others, and even using threats. Psychological aggression can cause the victim to have high levels of stress.

“People may not be aware of how aggressive relationships affect them. It’s not immediately obvious.” – Dr. Arriaga

Dr. Arriaga explained that victims of aggressive relationships have a hard time identifying where the stress is coming from based on the level of commitment they have to their partner. Why? Essentially, the more committed the partners are, the more they want to stick things out and make their situation work despite the harm and stress. When you are fully committed to someone, it can be hard to think about ending your relationship.

Dr. Arriaga did a survey on college students who were in aggressive relationships. She had individuals share the level of commitment they have to their partner and how they would feel if they ended the relationship with them. She found the more committed, the more miserable the individual predicted they would be after a breakup. While conducting the survey, some students chose to end their aggressive relationships. When surveyed afterwards to see how they actually felt, their happiness skyrocketed. Indeed, they were much happier then they predicted after walking away from the aggressive relationship.

I will leave you with one last quote from Dr. Arriaga that may encourage you if you are in or know someone who is in an aggressive relationship. “Partner aggression is harmful. Therefore we should not tolerate it.”

Photo courtesy of Dee Friesen.