Observed Emotional Expressivity, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, and Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration Among Community Couples

Timothy J. Sullivan, Feea R. Leifker, Amy D. Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Impaired emotional processes are related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and are implicated in intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration. To address the interpersonal context of PTSD, emotion, and IPV, we examined interactions among one's own and one's partner's emotional expressivity and PTSD symptom severity in association with IPV perpetration. Heterosexual couples (N = 56) in which at least one partner met screening criteria for PTSD engaged in two video-recorded discussions about negative and positive aspects of their relationships. Videos were coded for observed emotional expressiveness during moments participants reported experiencing significant emotions. Actor-partner interdependence models revealed few main effects of emotional expressivity, except that women's expressivity of positive emotions was positively associated with men's IPV perpetration, r2 adj =.14. Emotional expressivity played a larger role among couples managing PTSD symptoms; that is, the association between one's own PTSD symptom severity and more IPV perpetration was stronger among men who expressed more negative emotions, r2 adj =.19, and women who expressed fewer negative emotions, r2 adj =.21. Several partner effects suggested the importance of understanding the dyadic nature of these constructs. For example, men's PTSD symptom severity was differentially associated with each partners’ IPV perpetration based on women's expressivity of positive emotion, r2 adj =.22–.27. Understanding of emotional expressivity in the link between PTSD and IPV must include consideration of gender differences in how these constructs operate interpersonally. Strategies to promote moderate and safe communication of positive and negative emotions may prevent IPV escalation, particularly among couples managing PTSD symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-361
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of traumatic stress
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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