Professor Aaron Ben-Ze’ev is the President of the University of Haifa, and Professor of Philosophy. Ruhama Goussinsky, Ph.D is a lecturer in the Human Service Department in Emek Yisreel College and University of Haifa in Israel. Together they wrote In The Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and Its Victims which looks at how the idealization of love arms it with a destructive power. A major case study of the book concerns men who have murdered their wives or partners allegedly ‘out of love’. In the excerpt below the authors look at the common assumption in wife killing; that it is rooted in masculine possessiveness.
If you leave me now, you’ll take away the very heart of me – Chicago
My heart would break in two if I should lose you – Elvis Presley
The various explanations offered for the phenomenon of the murder of wives share one common assumption, according to which the motivation for violence against wives in all its forms, including murder, is rooted in masculine possessiveness. Although the existing explanations disagree about the acquired or inborn essence of male possessiveness, they share the view that an act of murder is the embodiment of the murderer’s personality (as if to say: tell me who the man is, and I will tell you what the woman’s chances of survival are). Sexual jealousy and anger are two emotions that, according to the common view, trigger wife killing.
Another assumption that unites most of the explanations is that in terms of motives and emotional dynamics, murderous violence is not distinguishable from other manifestations of violence against women. The prevalent view considers murder the end of a path and the climax of a history of violence that preceded it, not a separate phenomenon. However, unlike violence that is not connected to as specific behavioral stimulus on the woman’s part, 20 years of research has pointed systematically to the fact that many cases of wife killing are connected to the threat of abandonment, and they take place in response to the woman’s effort to end her relationship with the man.
Theories that refer to male possessiveness but overlook the context of potential abandonment cannot answer the question of why certain men murder their wives instead, they lead one to ask: ‘how is it that so few men kill their wives?’
Our conclusions support the consistent pattern of findings that have demonstrated that the phenomenon of wife killing often revolves around the woman threatening to or actually separating from her dating or marital partner. However, they also led us to diverge from the assumption that the murder of female partners is a phenomenon that can be explained by a single, central variable such as male possessiveness. The findings point to the need to understand the murder of women partners as a phenomenon anchored in a certain constellation of factors that combine and create the ‘conditions for murder’. From this point of view, the murder of the woman cannot be explained only as the embodiment of the murderer’s possessive personality; rather, it must be seen as the result of an interaction between the specific person and the specific context. Conditions of murder may be created when a relationship characterized by deep emotional dependence of the man on his wife, when love is experienced in terms of paternalism and shared identity, when separation is seen as loss of personal continuity, when masculine identity is defined in terms f power and control, and when a rigid personal disposition accompanies the dangerous realization of Romantic Ideology’s central theme- ‘without you I am nothing’.
Deciphering the context in which the idea of murder ripens until it is carried out illustrates that understanding the motivations behind the act in terms of ‘sexual jealousy’ or ‘masculine possessiveness’ is extremely simplistic and partial. Although conceptions of ownership and paternalism, and emotions such as jealousy and anger all play a role in the full range of factors that produce a readiness to take the life of a conjugal partner, it is more accurate to consider the motive for murder in terms of conditions that are propitious for the development of murderous violence, rather than in terms of one central personality variable.
The basis of the potential for murder can be characterized in dimensions of space and time. In the spatial dimension, in terms of content, the murder of wives is, as noted, the result of a combination of factors. A certain infrastructure gives rise to the potential for murderous violence. There are conditions of risk, many of which are part and parcel of Romantic Ideology, that combine and act together: when the woman is the man’s whole world; when separation from her is conceived of as a loss of identity, of self; when reality is emptied of other sources of significance; when the conception of masculinity, which dictates power, honor, and control, turns one’s dependence on the woman into an experience of weakness and impotence, grasped as a humiliating blow to masculine pride; when the feeling of need is joined to rigidity of personality; when rigidity is combined with aggression; when aggression is justified by Romantic Ideology; and when love legitimizes the worst sort of actions, in the guise of a desirable social ideal. When all of these combine, conditions of high risk are present.
In the temporal dimension, the murder must be seen as the climax of a dynamic process, during which a psychological readiness matures, specifically, the willingness to take the wife’s life. Our findings point to a dynamics of progress toward the deed over a period of weeks and months. That period is marked by continued affective states such as jealousy, anger, fear, depression, and despair, which shape a very powerful emotional framework for grasping reality. In this emotional context, the idea of murder ripens, gathers a feeling of realism, and advances toward implementation. That advancement involves certain or vague knowledge about what is going to happen, anxiety about the anticipated end, a feeling of sitting on a barrel of explosives, predicting imminent danger. Something horrible is about to happen.
The day of the murder is the day on which a spark ignites the explosive mass. As mentioned, the psychological willingess was already in place, and therfore neither the cirucmstance surrounding the day of the murder, nor the emotions accompanying the act can offer insight into the reason for the murder or shed light on the place from which it emerged. The traces of anger, as well as the traces of the murder, lead backwards in time…