Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 11/12, June 2005 (
An Adult Attachment Theoretical Perspective of Gender
Symmetry in Intimate Partner Violence
Adult attachment theory and research speciﬁcally related to men’s and women’s intimate
partner violence (IPV) are reviewed. In an effort to help explain gender similarities, two
different IPV patterns predicted by individual differences in adult attachment orientations
are proposed. Gender differences are addressed, including by critiquing the assessment of
outcome severity in previous research. Applications to practice and recommendations for
future research are discussed.
KEY WORDS: adult attachment; romantic relationships; intimate partner violence; domestic violence;
psychological abuse; gender differences.
Recent meta-analytic studies (Archer, 2000,
2002) showed that men and women perpetrated
equal amounts of intimate partner violence (IPV).
This phenomenon, called gender symmetry in IPV,
has stimulated much discussion. This paper offers
an explanation for similarities found in men’s and
women’s IPV by applying adult attachment theory.
Further, since men’s IPV more often caused injury
to victims than women’s IPV (Archer, 2000), clariﬁ-
cations of gender differences in outcome severity are
Prior to ﬁndings of gender symmetry in IPV,
men were viewed as more likely to be abusive to
romantic partners than women (see Dasgupta, 2002;
Saunders, 2002). The question that was seldom
asked was “Why do some men abuse their romantic
partners and others do not?” Individual differences
in approaches to intimate relationships may explain
not only why some men are more likely than others
to abuse their romantic partners, but also why some
women abuse their romantic partners (see White
& Kowalski, 1994). Feminist scholars advocate
integrating an individual difference approach with a
gender analysis to explicate gender similarities and
To whom correspondence should be addressed at University of
Miami School of Education, 312 Merrick Building, P.O. Box
248065, Coral Gables, Florida 33124-2040; e-mail: b.gormley@
differences in IPV (Lenton, 1995; Renzetti, 1996;
Walker, 1999). Adult attachment theory (Hazan
& Shaver, 1987) is uniquely suited to the study
of IPV because it describes individual differences
in expectations, affect regulation strategies, and
behavior within romantic relationships. Further,
unhealthy adult attachment styles have been as-
sociated with men’s and women’s IPV (Babcock,
Jacobson, Gottman, & Yerington, 2000; Bookwala
& Zdaniuk, 1998; Dutton, Saunders, Starzomski,
& Bartholomew, 1994; Gormley & Lopez, 2003;
Murphy & Hoover, 1999; O’Hearn & Davis, 1997;
Roberts & Noller, 1998; West & George, 1999). A
theory-driven model of IPV can offer new directions
for research and practice.
This paper reviews adult attachment theory and
research related to men’s and women’s IPV. In an ef-
fort to help explain gender similarities, two different
IPV patterns predicted by individual differences in
adult attachment orientations are proposed. Gender
differences are addressed, including by critiquing the
assessment of outcome severity in previous research.
Applications to practice and recommendations for
future research are discussed.
SEVERITY OF IPV OUTCOMES
The standard approach to studying IPV has the
potential to obscure gender differences in outcome
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.