Early last week, a video was released of NFL player Ray Rice knocking his wife out in an elevator, moments before he dragged her unconscious body across a hotel lobby. Many people are quick to point out that Janay Rice doesn’t consider herself a victim, and that she married him after the incident occurred. Still more say she would have left him if he was really abusive. But research shows that people in abusive relationships stay for complex reasons. Rusbult and Martz demonstrated that women who were more invested in their relationships were more likely to return to their abusive partner (1). Dutton and Painter showed evidence for traumatic bonding theory: the idea that intermittent abuse creates extremely strong attachments (2). And Strube and Barbour demonstrated that both commitment level and economic dependence are related to decisions to stay or leave (3). With overwhelming scientific evidence, we know that combining love and violence is rarely black and white.
(1) Rusbult, C.E., & Martz, J.M. (1995). Remaining in an abusive relationship: An investment model analysis of nonvoluntary dependence. Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21(6), 558-571.
(2) Dutton, D.G., & Painter, S. (1993). Emotional attachments in abusive relationships: A test of traumatic bonding theory. Violence and Victims, 8(2), 105-120.
(3) Strube, M.J., & Barbour, L.S. (1983). The decision to leave an abusive relationship: Economic dependence and psychological commitment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 45(4), 785-793.