Couples Wary About Marriage: Exposure to Violence and Abuse

A risk factor for premarital couples is wariness and lack of confidence about marriage that stems from exposure to abuse and violence. A survey by the Australian Institute of Criminology (Indermaur, D. Young Australians and Domestic Violence, 2001) reported that close to one-quarter of a sample of 5,000 Australians aged between 12 and 20 had witnessed an incident of domestic violence against their mother/stepmother.

Furthermore, one of our research projects involving 500 Australian participants in the PREPARE/ENRICH program indicated that 18.8% of men and 23.3% of women reported abuse occurring between their parents within their family of origin (Craddock, Alan E., Origins: Family Experiences of Premarital Couples, Sydney, Hillfort Resources, 2004).

Experience of abuse might shape an image of marriage that is negative and pessimistic and this could lead to lack of confidence about experiencing success and satisfaction in marriage. This is a “wariness factor” for couples considering whether or not to marry. The effect could be even greater if the person was also a victim of parental abuse.

The Australian PREPARE/ENRICH research has also shown that couples with experience of abuse in their family of origin are significantly less satisfied in their premarital relationships. When we also add in the impact of increasing levels of violence in the community we find a strong basis for “marital wariness” – fear of being hurt in an intimate relationship and heightened sensitivity to violence as one increasingly common way of dealing with threat and frustration. Being in an intimate relationship may be seen as also being especially vulnerable to violence.

Hence, our marriage education programs must be sensitive to these issues. They need to provide opportunities for couples wary and damaged by experiences of abuse to develop positive and more helpful beliefs, feelings and behaviours in relation to their own marriages.

Reference: Indermaur, D. (2001): Young Australians and Domestic Violence, Australian Institute of Criminology.

Craddock, Alan E.,(2004): Origins: Family Experiences of Premarital Couples, Sydney, Hillfort Resources.

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