So your boyfriend wants to hold your hand when you’re out together – that’s probably just a sign of affection and shows that he’s proud to be with you. But then he starts showing up unexpectedly to check that you’re doing what you said you’d be doing; refuses to introduce you to his male friends; and tells you he’ll die if you ever leave him. Uh oh! Evolutionary psychologists call these ‘mate retention behaviours’ and a new study shows they could be related to rates of relationship violence.
Todd Shackleford and colleagues asked 461 men to complete questionnaires about their use of ‘mate retention behaviours’ (see weblink) and their use of violence against their partners. They also asked a separate sample of 560 women to rate their partner’s use of mate retention tactics and their use of violence. Finally, 107 married couples gave the same information concerning the husband’s behaviour.
Across all three samples, the researchers found certain male behaviours tended to be associated with the use of violence against women. Men who were violent toward their partners also tended to use emotional manipulation (e.g. threatening to hurt themselves if their partner left them), to monopolise their partner’s time (e.g. not letting her go out without them), and/or to punish their partner’s infidelity (e.g. by becoming angry when she flirted with anyone else).
Other mate retention behaviours showed the opposite pattern and tended to be associated with a lack of violence. These included telling their partner they love them and spending a lot of money on their partner.
The researchers said “At a practical level, results of these studies can potentially be used to inform women and men, friends and relatives, of danger signs – the specific acts and tactics of mate retention – that portend the possibility of future violence in relationships in order to prevent it before it has been enacted”. They also acknowledged that women are sometimes violent towards men.
Shackleford, T.K., Goetz, A.T., Buss, D.M., Euler, H.A. & Hoier, S. (2005). When we hurt the ones we love: Predicting violence against women from men’s mate retention. Personal Relationships, 12, 447-463.
Link to mate retention inventory