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Don't Let Rocky Past Relations with Parents Spoil Your Romance

February 6, 2014—University of Alberta relationship researcher Matt Johnson has some advice for anybody who's had rocky relations with their parents while growing up: don't let it spill over into your current romantic partnership.

The love between parents and teens—however stormy or peaceful—may influence whether those children are successful in romance, even up to 15 years later, according to a new U of A study co-authored by Johnson, whose work explores the complexities of the romantic ties that bind.

Being aware of that connection may save a lot of heartache down the road, according to Johnson, who reviewed existing data that was gathered in the United States over a span of 15 years.

The findings, which appear in the February issue of Journal of Marriage and Family, uncovered a "small but important link between parent-adolescent relationship quality and intimate relationships 15 years later," Johnson said. "The effects can be long-lasting."

While their analysis showed, perhaps not surprisingly, that good parent-teen relationships resulted in slightly higher quality of romantic relationships for those grown children years later, it poses a lesson in self-awareness when nurturing an intimate bond with a partner, Johnson said.

"People tend to compartmentalize their relationships; they tend not to see the connection between one kind, such as family relations, and another, like couple unions. But understanding your contribution to the relationship with your parents would be important to recognizing any tendency to replicate behaviour—positive or negative—in an intimate relationship."

That doesn't mean parents should be blamed for what might be wrong in a grown child's relationship, Johnson added. "It is important to recognize everyone has a role to play in creating a healthy relationship, and each person needs to take responsibility for their contribution to that dynamic."

The results were gleaned from survey-based information from 2,970 people who were interviewed at three stages of life from adolescence to young adulthood, spanning ages 12 to 32.

Johnson is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Ecology at U of A. Along with his co-author, Nancy Galambos of the Department of Psychology, Johnson writes that "Scholars have long been interested in understanding how experiences in one's family of origin may shape later romantic relationship success. Much research in this area has focused on the intergenerational transmission of relationship quality from parents to their children by identifying elements within parents' marriages that are then perpetuated within the children's later relationships." While this research has yielded fruit, say Johnson and Galambos, it has mostly focused on the effects of negative interactions within parents' marriages.

Johnson and Galambos hold that their findings are especially encouraging in terms of indicating that children who have had troubled relationships with parents during adolescence can, with awareness, increase their chances of success within their own relationships. The authors call on practitioners to consider that their efforts to improve parent-teen relationships could have reverberating positive effects on family functioning far into the future.



Paths to Intimate Relationship Quality From Parent–Adolescent Relations and Mental Health,” Matthew D. Johnson and Nancy L. Galambos. Journal of Marriage and Family. Published online: 13 JAN 2014 | DOI: 10.1111/jomf.12074.




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