Domestic violence is a serious global problem that affects all regions, nations and cultures. Domestic violence refers to the violent acts perpetrated by one partner against the other within the context of the home environment. Generally violence acts perpetrated against women are cause for concern. In several instances as well women are the perpetrators. When such acts are perpetrated within the home and by intimate or former partners (Maziak & Asfar, 2003, p. 314) this situation becomes even more worrying.
Even given the reported high rates of domestic violence in eastern, western and Latin American countries, those rates are still not accurate. Flake and Forste (2006) acknowledge that actual rates of domestic violence are far higher than estimated particularly because such abuse is often underreported. Domestic abuse victims, they argue, often deny or minimize the intensity of experienced violence (p. 24). Considering the high propensity towards violence in the home situation it is a cause for concern for researchers and policy makers.
Given that domestic violence occurs among both married and cohabiting couples it is interesting to note any similarities or differences in these trends among both groups. The rates at which couples are cohabiting rather than getting married has been increasing over the past few decades and one report suggests that cohabitation is rapidly overtaking marriage as the preferred form of ‘co-residential union’ (Kenny & McLanahan, 2006, p. 127). Research has found that there is a higher rate of domestic violence among couples that are cohabiting than those that are married.
Even further there are also higher rates of homicide within this group (Kenny & McLanahan, 2006). Flake and Forste (2006) also support this position. They contend that in consistent cases the rates of domestic violence among married couples is significantly less than the rate among cohabiting couples. These researchers estimate that cohabiting relationships are between two and four times more likely to involve domestic violence than married relationships (p. 21). It also appears that being in an intimate relationship significant puts individuals at greater risks of being abused.
Even comparing married women to other women outside of relationships such as those who are single, divorced or widowed there is a noticeably higher risk of married women being abused. Furthermore the high rates of domestic violence seems to have a negative effect on the marriage institution since, as Kenny and McLanahan (2006) observe, when domestic violence occurs within the cohabiting relationship these couples are less likely to marry and more likely to separate. In addition where the female is the violent person in the relationship the likelihood of getting married is even further reduced (p. 28).
This therefore becomes a spiraling trend where those who experience abuse marry less often and thereby the rate of marriages is affected. Domestic violence may take any of several forms and varies from relationship to relationship. Violent domestic acts may include verbal abuse, physical abuse, arguments and other similar behavior among couples. Even in considering the different manifestations of domestic violence, Kenny and McLanahan (2006) noted a marked difference between the behaviors prevalent among cohabiting as compared to married couples.
For all manifestations of domestic violence these authors note that the rates of occurrence are greater among cohabiting relationships but to varying degrees. In a longitudinal study of 13, 017 individuals these authors found that 31% of cohabiting couples report domestic arguments becoming physical as opposed to only 19% reporting a similar occurrence among married couples. Furthermore in estimating the frequency of these domestic disputes cohabiting couples revealed a much higher frequency than married couples (p. 133).
Notably, however, there does not seem to be a significantly higher incidence of physical violence among cohabiting than married couples (p. 131). It is interesting to consider the factors that put cohabiting couples at a greater risk than married couples to experiencing domestic violence. Flake and Forste (2006) attempt to explain this phenomenon by suggesting that the temporary, often impermanent, duration of cohabiting relationships is probably the most significant contributing factor to the prevalence of domestic violence within this group (p. 1).
Additionally Kenny and McLanahan (2006) suggest that married couples are less likely to be violent because they have much more to lose in the event of dissolution of the marriage. The financial and social costs associated with terminating a marriage are significantly higher than those costs associated with separating from a cohabiting relationship. Married couples therefore expend more effort in ensuring that the marriage is successful and therefore violence between the partners is noticeably less.
Flake and Forste (2006) also observe that the tendency of one partner to alcoholism may be an influential factor in the occurrence of domestic violence. Coupled with marital status this factor is also significant in determining the likelihood of domestic violence in a relationship. With cohabitation rising as an alternate to marriage (Flake & Forste, 2006) it is worrying that domestic violence is much more prevalent within this group than among married couples.
Policy makers need to devise ways to ensure that stakeholders in a relationship are equally protected whether the relationship is one of cohabiting or marriage. It is important that the family relation remains a place of love, support and safety and therefore domestic violence in all its forms and among all affected groups must be diminished particularly among cohabiting couples if they are to convert their relationship into a formal marriage union.