UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 2 | Feb.
Why Love Hurts
Measuring beliefs of spouse abusers
By Erica Smishek
To believe is to accept as true.
But if what you believe causes you to abuse your partner,
would you -- could you -- change your beliefs?
That premise is at the heart of Social Work Prof. Mary Russells
current work developing a Relationship Beliefs Scale.
The scale measures beliefs along a respectful-abusive continuum
and may help clinicians determine what kind of man is abusive
and how to treat him.
We need some kind of measure to do before and after
treatment, Russell explains. Are the men changing?
Can we measure that change? How can we sustain it?
The concept goes back about a decade to her studies and clinical
practice with men who had been abusive in their relationships.
In evaluating group programs that specifically looked at relationship-based
interventions, Russell says the way men talked about relationships
It was all about them. They would say things like I
was so mad -- thats why I hit her. It was not
until they thought about the impact on their partners that
we could see relationship changes. For example, someone would
say When I moved suddenly, I saw her flinch. They
were starting to connect, to empathize with their partners
instead of just being concerned with themselves.
Moving from believing that they were central in the
relationship to placing greater value on connection within
the relationship -- that was critical.
Russell says while the men didnt necessarily think
they were superior, they thought they should be.
When the relationship moves toward equality, we have
less abuse occur, she notes.
The third dimension is the notion of not having any
responsibility. Men saw themselves as deserving of care and
attention. It was all up to the women. This laid the foundation
for potential abuse.
Supported by a three-year Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council of Canada grant, Russell returned to the
original interviews conducted during these group programs
and separated statements pertaining to beliefs. Three hundred
statements were culled to 100 to distinguish people with abusive
beliefs versus respectful beliefs. These were given to 15
experienced clinicians for analysis. Eventually 50 statements
were used in a test given to 100 men currently in treatment
either voluntarily or as part of a court order at the Victoria
Family Violence Prevention Society.
The scale is telling us something, says Russell,
who is halfway through the study. Men who are abusive
do have these particular beliefs. They hold them significantly
more than men in the general population. We can also see significant
changes in beliefs from before treatment to after treatment.
We need to see how they are sustained.
Russell says the men who are in treatment voluntarily want
to maintain relationships or enter into a new relationship
and make a go of it.
We have to instill the same motivation among those
who arent there voluntarily.
In addition to clinical applications, Russell said the scale
might have potential as a screening tool for marriage counselors
assisting relationships where a level of abuse has not been
disclosed and might also be of interest for members of the
general population having trouble in their relationships.
Russell is also in the very early stages of talking
to mens partners to determine if there are complementary
beliefs that discourage women from leaving abusive relationships.
In talking to clinicians, women take full responsibility
for these relationships. They think its up to them to
make it work. They have a real sense of pride in how hard
they try. There are a lot of practical reasons why women stay
but are there beliefs that they have that contribute?