I frequently hear people that have been in a "toxic/violent/destructive relationship" claiming that anyone can end up like that. In a trivial sense of that statement, that is the probability is > zero, it is true but is it true when you do a more reasonable interpretation of the claim, something like "anyone who has the misfortune to meet a 'problematic' partner will very likely get stuck into a 'toxic/violent/destructive relationship'" (or something like that)?

My personal belief is that isn't true. I think people with certain personality traits are more or less likely to end up in such relationships.

A few observations/datapoints that I base my view on:

  • The Milgram experiment. Clearly some people are more passive, less rebellious, mitläufer-ish etc which I think is a risk factor for staying in bad relationships

  • Big 5 personality traits. I think agreeableness is a risk factor. Breaking up with someone very often lead to conflicts and if you are afraid of that, well, then you avoid breaking up. Also, neuroticism seems, to me, like a risk factor.

  • Anecdotal - there are women who let their husbands handle their tax returns and men that let their wives handle the social network (this is stereotypical but clearly does exist) and breaking up from such an arrangement might be scary: losing all your friends or being forced to read up on complicated tax rules. This might be related to my mention of "passive" in my first point.

  • People trying to shift responsibility for their life, emotional as well as practical, to someone else.

  • "Over sensitive" people. People who need therapy because their cat died. (Slightly sarcastic)

  • People who tend to base their decisions on feelings rather than rational thinking.

There are of course a lot more behaviours or personality traits that I think have a high influence on the risk of staying in a "toxic/violent/destructive relationship", this is just a few examples.

Does it exist any research that supports (or refute) the claim that everyone, with a reasonably high/similar probability, can end up in a "toxic/violent/destructive relationship" if they just meet the "right" person?

Context: any western country where people are free to move at anytime, work with whatever they like, can pick their friends as they like etc.

Update: here are two examples, of very different kind, where people claim that it can happen to anyone.

First a "popular" example from an interview in Elle:

The biggest misconception is, ‘Well, you’re smart. If it was that bad, why didn’t you leave?’ ” Her response: “It can happen to anyone.”

Note specifically that the journalist doesn't object to this statement, presumably because she has heard it before and it is a well established "paradigm".


Second, an academic paper Captured Queen - Men's Violence Against Women.


I can't quote anything specific because the whole thesis of this paper is that it can happen to anyone.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 6 at 14:16
  • "It can happen to anyone" usually means "don't blame yourself for being a victim, don't let anyone tell you you are stupid for getting stuck in a violent relationship, because it can happen to anyone". So not counting or checking probabilities at all, but trying to make the victim feel better.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 9 at 17:44


Browse other questions tagged .