– Psychologists found more women are verbally or physically abusive to partner

– Within partner relationships, women are just as controlling as men

– It suggests ‘intimate partner violence’ may not be motivated by patriarchal values, as previously thought

Convention has it that women are the gentler sex. 

But when it comes to relationships they are more likely than men to be controlling and aggressive, a study claims.

Increasing numbers of women can now be classed as ‘intimate  terrorists’, meaning that they are verbally and physically violent towards a partner.

Psychologists at the University of Cumbria questioned 1,104 young men and women using a scale of behaviour which ranged from shouting and insulting to pushing, beating and using weapons.

They discovered that women were ‘significantly’ more likely to be  verbally and physically aggressive to men than vice versa. 

They concluded that violence was linked to controlling behaviour such as checking up on partners and persuading them not to see certain friends.

The term ‘intimate terrorism’ was coined in the 1990s when US sociologist Michael P Johnson used it to define an extreme form of controlling relationship behaviour involving threats, intimidation and violence.

He said men were almost always responsible, and the phrase gained notoriety when TV cook Nigella Lawson claimed that she had been subjected to acts of ‘intimate  terrorism’ by her ex-husband, Charles Saatchi.

But the latest research turns the accepted view on its head.

Study leader Dr Elizabeth Bates said: ‘The stereotypical popular view is still one of dominant control by men. That does occur but research over the last ten to 15 years has highlighted the fact that women are controlling and aggressive in relationships too.’

She said scientists may have to think again about the reasons for male violence against women, which previous studies said arose from ‘patriarchal values’ in which men are motivated to seek to control women’s behaviour, using violence if necessary.

She said other research also looked at men in prisons and women in refuges, rather than  typical members of the public.

The study team were surprised at the level of violence shown by some women, revealed in answers to an anonymous questionnaire.

Dr Bates, who presented her findings at the annual meeting of  the forensic division of the British Psychological Society, in Glasgow, said: ‘It wasn’t just pushing and shoving. Some people were circling the boxes for things like beating up, kicking, and threatening to  use a weapon.’

She added men may be starting to report the issue more often. ‘A contributing factor could be that in the past women have talked about it more,’ she said. ‘The feminist movement made violence towards women something we talk about.

‘Now there is more support for men and more of them are feeling comfortable coming forward.’

The analysis showed that, while women tended to be more physically aggressive towards their partners, men were more likely to show violence towards members of the same sex, including friends.