The Marriage License as a Controlling License?: Controlling Behavior Within Marriage as a Particular Risk for Violence

Maureen Outlaw, Montclair State University

Although the notion that the 'marriage license is a hitting license' has been criticized and debated, citing higher rates of intimate violence among cohabiters than married couples, the feminist notion that marriage may lead some men to assume that control over their spouses is warranted remains. Simultaneously, recent work has supported Johnson's (1995) claim that there may be more than one type of intimate violence-one characterized by controlling behavior (predominantly by men) and one characterized by mutual poor conflict management. The current study combines these two related concepts and examines whether controlling behavior is more common among married couples than among unmarried partners and whether it is more likely to lead to violence within the couple. The analyses use data from the National Violence and Threats of Violence against women and men in the U.S., 1994-1996 survey and examine main and interactive effects of control and marital status on the likelihood, frequency, and severity of violence. Results indicate that controlling behavior within marriage is more likely to have violent outcomes than controlling behavior by partners outside of marriage. Larger implications are discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006