Longitudinal Effects of Increases and Decreases in Intimate Partner Aggression

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Interventions aimed at reducing interpartner aggression assume that within-couple declines in aggression enhance individual and relational outcomes, yet reductions in aggression may fail to yield these benefits when other risk-generating mechanisms remain intact. The present study evaluates this possibility by investigating whether naturally observed within-couple changes in aggression are associated with improved individual and relational outcomes in the manner assumed by intervention programs. Drawing upon 4 waves of data collected at 9-month intervals from a community sample of 431 newlywed couples (76% Hispanic) living in low-income neighborhoods, Actor-Partner-Interdependence Modeling (APIM) and Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) indicated that levels of aggression at the outset of marriage had limited associations with later outcomes. Changes in aggression, however, were associated with subsequent marital outcomes, such that decreases in aggression were beneficial and increases in aggression were costly. Individuals who experienced increases in aggression worsened in their observed communication over time and reported greater increases in stress. Reports of stress early in marriage predicted escalations in aggression over time. Thus, helping couples to contain increases in aggression might be particularly consequential for their well-being.

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