Violence in adolescent relationships

Many young people and adolescents do not pay too much attention to violence in their relationships, they tend to believe that it is a problem that only affects adults. However, during courtship, important etiologic factors of gender-based violence that occur in adult couples may appear.

Violence among young couples: why is it happening?

Violence in relationships is a problem that affects all ages, races, social classes and religions. It is a social and health problem which, due to its high incidence, has currently caused significant social alarm due to both the seriousness of the facts and the negativity of its consequences.

The concept of violence in couple relationships between adolescents has been defined by several authors. International research uses the term “dating assault and / or dating violence”, in Spain the term most used is adolescent relationship violence or dating violence.

Define this type of violence

Ryan Shorey, Gregory Stuart and Tara Cornelius define violence in marriage relationships as behaviors that involve physical, psychological or sexual aggression between members of a couple during courtship. Other authors point out that it is violence that involves any attempt to dominate or control a person physically, psychologically and / or sexually, causing some kind of harm.

Required reading: “The 30 Signs of Psychological Abuse in a Relationship”

From psychology, several authors attempt to explain the causes of this violence in adolescent relationships. Although there are currently few studies that have theoretically addressed the origin and maintenance of violence in these couples, there is a certain tendency to explain it from classical theories of aggression or related to ideas about gender-based violence in adult couples.

Here are some of the most relevant theories and theoretical models, but not all, to shed light on this problem.

Affection theory

John Bowlby (1969) proposes that people shape their relationship style from the interactions and relationships they have established during childhood with the main figures of affection (mother and father). These interactions they influence both the onset and development of aggressive behavior.

According to this theory, adolescents from households in which they have observed and / or experienced abuse, who have problems regulating their emotions, poor problem-solving skills and / or less self-confidence, aspects that may also be owed than before, it would show more chances of establishing confrontational couple relationships.

From this perspective, aggression in adolescence is believed to be the result of negative experiences during childhood, Such as aggressive behavior in parents, child abuse, insecure affection, etc., and at the same time influence the appearance of dysfunctional patterns in adulthood. However, we cannot ignore the fact that personal experiences involve a process of individual elaboration that would allow these patterns to be altered.

Deepening: “The theory of the link and the link between parents and children”

Social learning theory

Proposed by Albert Bandura in 1973 focused on the concepts of modeling and social learning, explains how learning in childhood is done by imitating what we observe.

Aggressive behaviors in a teenage couple’s relationship would occur by learning them either through personal experience or by witnessing relationships in which there is violence. So, people who experience or are exposed to violence will be more likely to exhibit violent behavior compared to those who have not experienced it or been exposed to it.

However, we must consider that each person is leading a process of building their own experience and not just copying the conflict resolution strategies of their parents. Outraged, some studies have shown that not all adolescents have committed or been the victims of assault in their partners, in their childhood, they experienced or witnessed aggressive behavior at home, with their friends or with former partners.

Feminist point of view

Authors such as Lenore Walker (1989)) Explain that violence in couples is rooted in unequal social distribution based on gender, Which produces more power for the man than for the woman. According to this perspective, women are seen as objects of control and domination by the patriarchal system through the principles of social learning theory, the sociocultural values ​​of patriarchy and gender inequality, transmitted and learned. at the individual level. Gender-based violence is violence aimed at maintaining control and / or dominance in an unequal relationship, in which the two members have received different socialization.

This theoretical perspective has been adapted to violence in adolescent relationships, given the ample evidence of the influence that traditional belief systems exert on gender roles, both in the emergence and maintenance of violence. This adaptation explains and analyzes why the assaults that boys talk about show a tendency to be more serious, and analyzes possible differences between the two sexes, for example in terms of consequences.

Social exchange theory

Proposed by George C. Homans (1961), indicates that people’s motivation lies in obtaining rewards and reducing or eliminating costs in their relationships. Thus, a person’s behavior will vary depending on the amount and type of reward they think they are receiving.

So, relationship violence is used as a way to cut costs, Gain more control and power through aggression. The aggressor’s search for control would be linked to the reduction of another of the possible costs of relations, of uncertainty, of not knowing what the other is thinking, what he is doing, where he is. , etc. Along this line, the lower the reciprocity in a given interaction, the greater the likelihood of emotional behaviors based on anger or violence.

In turn, these behaviors will make the individual feel disadvantaged and increase the chances that the interaction will become more dangerous and violent. Thus, the main benefit of violence is to dominate another individual, and the chances of a violent exchange ending, increase when the costs of violent behavior outweigh the benefits it produces.

Cognitive-behavioral approach

Focusing the Explanation of Relationship Violence cognitions and cognitive processes, emphasizing that people seek consistency between their thoughts and between themselves and their behaviors. The presence of cognitive distortions or inconsistencies between them will produce negative emotions that can lead to the onset of violence.

However, the cognitive-behavioral approach has focused more on explaining the cognitive distortions that occur in aggressors, for example, faced with the same situation in which the couple is not present, the aggressor will show a more positive great tendency to think that your partner did not wait for you at home to bother you or disrespect you, which will produce negative emotions, in turn a person who is not aggressive will think it is because that your partner will be busy or having fun and will cause him to produce positive emotions in you and you will be happy for that.

Ecological model

It was proposed by Urie Bronfenbrenner (1987) and adapted by White (2009) to explain violence in relationships, becoming known as the socio-ecological model. He explains relationship violence through four levels ranging from the most general to the most specific: social, community, interpersonal and individual. At each level there are factors that increase or decrease the risk of perpetrating violence or victimization.

Thus, violent behavior in a relationship would be in this pattern at the individual level and would develop due to the prior influence of other levels. This influence of different levels comes from the traditional view of the division of power in society in favor of men, as in feminist theory.

lift that violent behavior against the couple is influenced by beliefs at the social level (For example, the division of labor between men and women, the sexual division of power), at the community level (such as the integration of gender-differentiated social relations integrated into schools, workplaces, social institutions , etc.), at the interpersonal level (such as the beliefs of both members of the couple about how the relationship should be), and at the individual level (eg, what the individual thinks about what is ‘appropriate’ or not in a relationship). Behaviors that do not meet these gender-based expectations will increase the likelihood of violent behavior and will use these beliefs to justify resorting to violence.


There are currently several theories or perspectives, there have been scientific advancements in this area and new research has become interested in explaining violence in adolescent relationships, reviewing traditional theories and those that focus on any type of abuse. interpersonal violence.

However, despite recent scientific advances in this area, there are still many unknowns to be solved which allow us to know the two individual factors as a relational on the origin, causes and maintenance of dating violence. This breakthrough would help adolescents both to identify if they are suffering from partner violence and to prevent its occurrence, as well as to identify the factors that can cause gender violence in adult couples and to start their relationship. prevention from adolescence.

Bibliographical references:

  • Fernández-Fuertes, AA (2011). Prevention of aggressive behavior in young adolescent couples. In RJ Carcedo and V. Guijo, Violence in teen and young couples: How to understand and prevent it. (Pp. 87-99). Salamanca: Editions Amarú.
  • Gelles, RJ (2004). Social factors. In J. Sanmartin, (Eds.), The Labyrinth of Violence. Causes, types and effects. (Pp. 47-56.). Barcelona: Ariel.
  • RC Shorey, GL Stuart, TL Cornelius (2011) Dating violence and substance use among college students: a review of the literature. Aggressive and Violent Behavior, 16 (2011), pages 541-550
  • Smith, PH, White, JW and Moracco, KE (2009). Becoming Who We Are: A Theoretical Explanation of Social Structures and Gender Social Networks that Shape Adolescent Interpersonal Aggression. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33 (1), 25-29.
  • Walker, L. (1989). Psychology and violence against women. American Journal of Psychological Association, 44 (4), 695-702.
  • Wekerle, C. and Wolfe, DA (1998). The role of child abuse and affection style in adolescent relationship violence. Development and Psychopathology, 10, 571-586.

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