Dating Violence and Cyber-Violence in Adolescent Relationships: Unpacking the Complex Dynamics


Dating violence (DV), a term primarily used in Anglo-Saxon literature, encompasses a broad spectrum of aggressive behaviors, harassment, and intentional attacks directed at a partner or ex-partner.

These actions can manifest physically, sexually, or psychologically, predominantly within romantic relationships involving young people or adolescents. This article delves into the multifaceted world of dating violence, exploring its evolution, its digital counterpart known as cyber-violence, and the intricate web of beliefs and emotions that influence it.

The Evolution of Dating Violence

Dating violence, particularly concerning young individuals, has been a subject of concern since the mid-1980s when early studies like Makepeace (1981) and O’Keeffe et al. (1986) began shedding light on this issue. However, it has gained even more relevance in recent decades, with Rodriguez-Diaz et al. (2017) highlighting its severe public health implications. Dating violence is now acknowledged as a pressing problem due to its profound impact on the physical and mental well-being of young people (Exner-Cortens et al., 2013) and its alarming prevalence (López-Barranco et al., 2022).

The Emergence of Cyber-Violence

The rise of the internet and social networks has ushered in a new dimension of dating violence: cyber-violence in relationships or online dating violence. This form of violence is characterized by aggressive actions carried out through various information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as the internet, cell phones, and social networks.

These behaviors often involve control, humiliation, intimidation, and threats, including actions like monitoring cell phones, sharing private information without consent, threatening to expose sensitive content on social media, limiting a partner’s online presence, and exerting control over their social relationships. These behaviors have substantial psychosocial repercussions on young individuals, resulting in both short and long-term adverse consequences.

The Bidirectional Nature of Cyber-Violence

A noteworthy aspect of cyber-violence is its bidirectional nature. In many instances, young people and adolescents can find themselves both victims and perpetrators of cyber-violence simultaneously. This bidirectionality underscores the importance of analyzing cyber-violence from both perspectives, offering valuable insights into commonalities and disparities in the levels of cyber-violence experienced and perpetrated.

Exploring the Factors Influencing Cyber-Violence

While numerous studies have delved into identifying cyber-violence behaviors, prevalence rates, and consequences, recent efforts have shifted towards understanding the factors that either increase or decrease the likelihood of individuals becoming victims or perpetrators of cyber-violence. This shift is driven by a desire to prevent cyber-violence and promote healthier relationship dynamics among young individuals.

The Role of Beliefs and Emotions in Cyber-Violence

Beliefs and emotions play a pivotal role in understanding the complex web of cyber-violence. Several key factors contribute to the emergence of cyber-violence in relationships:

Jealousy: Jealousy is a primary source of conflict in young and adolescent relationships. It arises from perceived threats to a significant relationship due to the involvement of a third person, eliciting a range of negative emotions, including anger, sadness, and fear. Despite being widely regarded as a problematic emotion, cultural beliefs often normalize and reinforce jealousy, leading young individuals to perceive certain violent behaviors as expressions of love.

Romantic Love Myths: Romantic myths comprise socially shared beliefs about the nature of “true love” and meaningful romantic relationships. These myths often present unrealistic and unattainable ideals, such as the idea that true love should be possessive and exclusive. These beliefs can reinforce violent love models and contribute to the misconception that certain violent behaviors are manifestations of love.

Sexism: Sexism, characterized by discriminatory beliefs and attitudes related to gender roles, often leads to power imbalances in relationships and the reinforcement of stereotypical gender roles. These attitudes can manifest in cyber-violence, where online harassment and abuse may be motivated by misogyny and sexism. Research suggests that individuals with more traditional sexist beliefs are more accepting of aggression in relationships and violence towards women.

Understanding the Interplay of Beliefs and Cyber-Violence

Jealousy, romantic love myths, and sexism are intertwined elements that form a belief system conducive to negative emotions and the legitimization of violent actions, including those expressed virtually. While substantial evidence exists linking these beliefs to dating violence, more comprehensive research is needed to understand their combined effects on cyber-violence, particularly given the evolving dynamics of modern romantic relationships.


This study set out to investigate the intertwined effects of beliefs associated with dating violence, namely romantic love myths, jealousy, and sexism, on cyber-violence victimization and perpetration. The findings reveal crucial insights into the relationship between these beliefs and various dimensions of cyber-violence.

Beliefs and Cyber-Victimization

Analyzing the combined effects of beliefs on cyber-victimization, the results indicate that cognitive jealousy seems to play a role in increasing the likelihood of becoming a victim of cyber-violence. Individuals who tend to engage in this type of cognition may find themselves in relationships more susceptible to abusive situations. However, given the cross-sectional and correlational nature of the study, causality cannot be definitively established, and bidirectional effects may exist. It is plausible that experiencing cyber-victimization leads to increased cognitive jealousy, driven by heightened uncertainty about the relationship.

Regarding the impact of romantic love myths on cyber-victimization, the study did not reveal substantial effects, except for a slight protective role associated with the myth of eternal passion. This finding suggests that romantic love myths, while prevalent in society, may not significantly contribute to victimization in the cyber context.

Beliefs and Cyber-Harassment Perpetration

In contrast, the study uncovered intriguing patterns when examining the role of beliefs in cyber-harassment perpetration. Affective jealousy related to cheating emerged as a dominant factor associated with the perpetration of virtual aggression. This suggests that individuals experiencing strong negative emotions, particularly anger, due to suspicions of cheating are more likely to engage in cyber-harassment. These heightened emotions appear to be strongly correlated with aggressive behaviors.

Furthermore, cognitive jealousy, which was linked to cyber-victimization, did not seem to contribute significantly to cyber-harassment perpetration. This distinction underscores the complex relationship between jealousy and cyber-violence, indicating that different dimensions of jealousy may be associated with distinct cyber-violence outcomes.

Another critical finding relates to hostile sexism, which was found to increase the likelihood of perpetrating cyber-violence. Hostile sexism encompasses attitudes that favor and legitimize violence towards women. These attitudes may contribute to high-activation negative emotions and negative attributions about women’s intentions, ultimately fueling cyber-harassment behaviors. This finding aligns with previous literature highlighting the role of sexist beliefs in promoting violence against women.

Limitations and Future Directions

While this study provides valuable insights into the connections between beliefs and cyber-violence, it is essential to acknowledge its limitations. Social desirability biases may have influenced participants’ responses, particularly in reporting perpetration of violence. Additionally, the study relied on non-probabilistic self-administered sampling via social networks, which may introduce sampling biases.

The gender imbalance in the sample, primarily consisting of women, could have skewed the data and limited our understanding of gender-specific effects. Future research should explore potential gender differences in the proposed model, considering the discrepancies in the consequences of dating violence between genders.

Moreover, the bidirectional nature of dating violence, as evidenced in previous studies, warrants further investigation. Comparative analyses of both perpetration and victimization in dating violence are needed to gain a comprehensive understanding of this complex issue.

Implications and Conclusion

The findings of this study hold significant implications for research and intervention efforts in the context of dating violence among young people and adolescents. Notably, they can serve as a foundation for guiding future studies in this area, especially those exploring gender-specific effects and the bidirectional nature of dating violence.

Additionally, these results can inform the development of prevention and intervention programs in educational and healthcare settings. Given that young individuals frequently seek assistance and consultation regarding dating violence, addressing the influence of beliefs on cyber-violence is essential. Public policies and actions aimed at promoting healthy relationships among young people should consider these variables to establish effective preventive models of dating violence. Ultimately, by shedding light on the intricate dynamics of beliefs and emotions in cyber-violence, this study contributes to the ongoing efforts to create safer and more respectful romantic relationships among young people and adolescents.

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