2000, Vol. 79, No. 2, 224-237
Copyright 2000 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0022-3514/00/$5.00 DOI: 10.1037//0022-35188.8.131.52
Competence in Early Adult Romantic Relationships:
A Developmental Perspective on Family Influences
Rand D. Conger, Ming Cui, and
Chalandra M. Bryant
Iowa State University
Glen H. Elder, Jr.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The present prospective, longitudinal study of 193 young adults (85 men, 108 women, M = 20.7 years old) and their partners in ongoing romantic relationships in 1997 was initiated in 1989, when the 193 target youths were in the 7th grade. On the basis of the model for the development of early adult romantic relationships (DEARR; C. Bryant & R. D. Conger, in press), the authors hypothesized that interactional processes in the family of origin would predict interpersonal skills by the target youths, which would be positively related to the early adult couple's relationship quality. Observational ratings showed that nurturant-involved parenting in the family of origin predicted behaviors by the target youth to a romantic partner that were warm, supportive, and low in hostility. These competent behaviors of the target youth were positively associated with relationship quality for the early adult couple and also mediated or explained the connection between parenting and relationship quality. The achievement of interpersonal intimacy is widely regarded as a central developmental task of young adults (Berscheid, 1999; Feldman, Gowen, & Fisher, 1998). Close social ties promote
personal well-being, and the failure to establish or maintain such relationships in general, and romantic relationships in particular, predicts both physical and emotional distress (House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988; Simon & Marcussen, 1999; Weiss & Heyman,
1997; Wickrama, Lorenz, Conger, & Elder, 1997). Despite the
recognized importance of competence in close relationships, very little is known about the developmental roots of the ability to successfully initiate and sustain such unions (Christensen, 1998; Parke, 1998). The present study addresses this deficit through a prospective, longitudinal investigation of family-of-origin predictors of competence in early adult romantic relationships.
For many reasons, competence in romantic relationships has
special significance both for the individual and for society. To begin with, approximately 90% of all adults eventually marry, and 50% or more of these marriages either fail or are marked by
conflict, withdrawal, and continuing unhappiness (Bradbury,
1998; Halford, Kelly, & Markman, 1997). Divorce, continuing
marital distress, or difficulties in cohabiting or premarital unions can have negative emotional, physical, behavioral, social, or economic consequences both for romantic partners and for their
children (Amato & Booth, 1997; Gottman, 1994; Halford et al., 1997; Harold & Conger, 1997; House et al., 1988; Leonard &
Roberts, 1998; Noller & Feeney, 1998; Simon & Marcussen, 1999; Simons, 1996). Indeed, problems in marital and family relationships are the primary impetus for seeking psychological services
(Berscheid, 1999; Bradbury, 1998). Because of these important consequences of difficulties in marital and other romantic relationships, greater understanding is needed of the developmental precursors of the constellation of beliefs, behaviors, or emotional
dispositions that increase the likelihood of developing stable and satisfying romantic ties. The evidence just reviewed suggests that such relationships foster individual well-being and help to avoid the negative sequelae associated with relationship distress or termination. In the present report, we investigate this issue by examining prospectively specific interactional qualities in the family of origin that were predicted to be associated with behavioral competencies in early adult romantic relationships.
Rand D. Conger,...