Heterosexual sexist men who think their female partners or wives want to control them are more likely to underestimate their power in romantic relationships and act aggressively, researchers said. The study examined what is known as hostile sexism, or the belief that women want to control men, in romantic relationships because the power dynamic is different from the workplace or other areas of life.
"Power dynamics are not as simple in intimate relationships because even in well-functioning relationships, both partners are inescapably dependent on each other," said Emily J. Cross, a post-doctoral student from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
"This mutual dependence constrains an individual's power. This can be very difficult for men who have sexist views because they are already concerned about losing power to women and they may lash out at their significant other in harmful ways," he added.
For the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the team included 1,096 heterosexual men and women across four experiments among which 590 of them were couples.
The team found that men who showed more hostile sexist views felt they had less power in their relationships, were more aggressive toward their partners by being critical or unpleasant.
They try to restore the perceived power imbalance through their aggressive behaviour, not because they wanted more dominance over their partners, the researchers said.
On the other hand, the study also examined women with hostile sexist views, or the belief that men are better suited for powerful positions in society and that women should support men's power.
Results showed that such women had less desire for power in their relationships.
"Aggressive behaviour can have disastrous consequences on a relationship because the female partner is more likely to withdraw, openly share her dissatisfaction and become less committed," Cross said.
"This can reinforce a commonly held stereotype among men with sexist beliefs that women are not trustworthy," Cross stated.