Intimate partner aggression (IPA) increased after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the Vulnerability-Stress-Adaptation (VSA) model, the current study examined associations among emotion regulation (ER) difficulties (an enduring vulnerability), COVID stress (a current stressor), alcohol use (a maladaptive coping strategy), and physical, psychological, and cyber IPA perpetration during the first eight months of the pandemic.
Participants were 215 college students in current relationships from three universities across the US.
Results of generalized linear models controlling for pre-COVID IPA perpetration showed a main effect of ER difficulties on physical IPA perpetration (b = 0.56, p < .001), an ER difficulties X COVID stress X alcohol use interaction on psychological IPA perpetration (b = 0.01, p = .03), and an ER difficulties X COVID stress interaction on cyber IPA perpetration (b = − 0.02, p = .02). Specifically, when ER difficulties and alcohol use were low, individuals with high levels of COVID stress were at higher risk of perpetrating psychological IPA relative to individuals with low levels of COVID stress. However, the association between COVID stress and psychological IPA perpetration was not statistically significant when ER difficulties and alcohol use were high. Similarly, when ER difficulties were low, individuals with high levels of COVID stress were at higher risk for perpetrating cyber IPA relative to individuals with low levels of COVID stress. However, when ER difficulties were high, the association between COVID stress and cyber IPA perpetration was not statistically significant.
The current findings tentatively implicate COVID stress as a critical correlate of IPA perpetration and suggest that individuals who have fewer existing vulnerabilities (i.e., ER difficulties) and maladaptive processes (i.e., alcohol use) should not be overlooked.