Scientists believe men who can’t physically abuse their partners less likely to commit
(Salt Lake City) – Just a year ago John Maplethorpe of Park City, Utah was engaged and committed to his fiancée, Sharon Headley, also of Park City. But today, John has broken off the engagement and the couple has gone their separate ways, despite Sharon’s protests.
“All of a sudden I just didn’t feel the same; it’s like all the passion was drained out of me. Things just felt…wrong. Unbalanced somehow,” Maplethorpe remembers, “I couldn’t lie to myself or Sharon. I just couldn’t commit to being with this one woman forever.”
Though Maplethorpe and Headley’s situation might initially look like a classic case of cold feet, their engagement break-up is part of a growing trend scientists and psychologists say goes much deeper than an inability to commit.
Dr. Thomas Lee, a social psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, explains, “We noticed this increasing pattern of behavior among young couples. They would meet, fall in love, get closer, and then commit to marriage. But before they could pull the trigger on the vows, the male would decide he simply couldn’t go through with it. And this isn’t just a few cases, it’s now happening in the majority of new engagements,”
To explain the hesitance to commit on the part of men, Dr. Lee points to Non-Functional Violence Syndrome (NFVS), “We looked at pre- and post-NFVS break-ups, and what we found was that the vast majority of post-NFVS break-ups were initiated by the male. When we interviewed subjects, the main factor wasn’t lack of love, it was a feeling that suddenly things weren’t quite right or something was missing.”
From this data, Dr. Lee’s team extrapolated that heterosexual men, who historically have been able to dominate and control their physically weaker partners with cycles of violence and abuse, no longer have that option. These men suddenly find themselves committing to a long-term relationship where control is harder to establish. Men can’t simply beat or physically intimidate their spouse like their forefathers.
Dr. Jackson Grant of Princeton’s psycho-biology department reached a similar conclusion, “Our observations pointed to the female partner’s lack of fear and dependence as the male’s primary source of discomfort about the relationship. These men only know how to function in these cycles of violence where they lash out, apologize, enter a ‘honeymoon phase’, start abusing again, and then strike out once more, each cycle further solidifying their partner’s inability to leave. The destruction of this cycle really throws these guys for a loop, psychologically speaking.”
Pre-marriage counselor Bob Jakes says these findings are probably accurate, but also speak to a man’s motivations to maintain relationships, “We’ve known for a long time that most men struggle with their capacity for love; that the utility they get out of relationships is derived instead from domination and power. So it’s not surprising to me so many are having trouble now that they are limited to emotional abuse and economic control. Those measures are a lot harder to establish and maintain, particularly as women have made a number of gains in the general direction of equality. But equality in physical violence wasn’t something most men were prepared for.”
Back in Park City, Sharon still hasn’t given up on her relationship with John, “If he needs to feel powerful to marry me, that’s fine, that’s his right as a man, I’ll give him my bank account, I’ll let him say anything he wants to me, just as long as I can be with him. A relationship is about compromise, and I love John so much I’ll do anything I have to do to make it work.”