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Relationship trajectories of women experiencing alcohol-related intimate partner violence: A grounded-theory analysis of women's voices
Rationale: The association between male partner alcohol use and increased risk and severity of their perpetration of intimate partner violence (IPV) is well-established in quantitative research. However, few studies have explored the nature and trajectory of relationships involving partner drinking and abuse, and how women find pathways to safety.
Objective and method: We conducted in-depth interviews with a community sample of 18 Australian women (aged 20–50 years) who reported feeling afraid when their male partner drank alcohol. Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, we identified key processes underpinning women's experience of alcohol-related IPV and mapped these over four relationship phases.
Results: Partner alcohol use played a key role in how women interpreted and dealt with IPV victimisation. In early relationships, women spoke of not seeing or dismissing early warning signs of problem drinking and aggression in settings that normalized men's heavy drinking. Later, women identified patterns of inter-connected drinking and aggression, leading to questioning their reality, trying to ‘fix’ their partner's drinking to stop the abuse, and in the absence of change, learning to manage daily life around the drinking and abuse. In the third phase, giving up hope that the partner would stop drinking, women ended the relationship. Finally, after leaving the abuser, women attempted to reset normal around drinking behaviour but continued to experience trauma associated with others' drinking in social settings.
Discussion and conclusion: For women who have experienced partners' alcohol use intertwined with violence in their relationship, changing their partners' drinking plays a central role in their journey to safety, possibly obscuring recognition of abuse and complicating their ability to leave. Greater understanding of the stages of the alcohol-IPV relationship can help health providers support women as they navigate these complex relationships, and provide appropriate support depending on the needs of women in their relationship trajectory.