Public Release: 

Understanding how vulnerabilities may keep women in abusive relationships

Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

The Vulnerability Conceptual Model provides a tangible representation of a woman's experience in her abusive relationship(s) and may aid her in determining her own relational and situational vulnerabilities. Using self-reflection, i.e. narrative therapy, women may find the origins of, their susceptibility to, and untapped resiliencies against violent relationships. An article published in the latest issue of Family Relations discusses this model and the vulnerabilities that emerged from interviews with seven Black and twenty-one White women who suffered chronic abuse by male dating partners. "Rather than victim-blaming, studying women's vulnerabilities provides a theoretical basis for understanding why women stay in... and perhaps re-enter abusive relationships with the same partner or different partners," the authors state.

Focusing on relational vulnerability (one's beliefs about self and what is normal in an intimate relationship) and situational vulnerability (degree to which the woman is experiencing different types of stress when she began the relationship), the authors found common experiences and cultural differences among the women. Five sub-categories of relational vulnerability emerged: 1) external orientation or the degree to which the women see themselves as having value independent of others 2) socialization to violence 3) socialization to the abuse of power 4) a caretaker identity that led to problematic, needy partners, and 5) cultural factors. The first four categories were found in both Black and White women. Culturally, Black women were affected by a strong race consciousness that compelled them to stay with Black men citing a desire to maintain their relationship in the face of the negativity and dysfunctional reputation of Black relationships. "Attempting to understand how women become victims of chronic abuse is an attempt to learn more about what fosters resilience," the authors conclude.


This study is published in the latest issue of Family Relations. Media wishing to receive a PDF please contact

Since 1951, Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies has covered areas of critical importance to family professionals. The journal's content emphasizes family research with implications for intervention, education, and public policy. It is published by the National Council on Family Relations. Information about the National Council on Family Relations can be found at

April Few is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development at Virginia Tech. She has written extensively on women and abusive relationships.

Dr. Few is available for questions and interviews.

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