Influence of Childhood and Adolescent Relationships on Adult Relationships

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Bowlby suggests that there is a direct link between childhood relationships and adult relationships. He suggested that individuals develop an internal working model of the self in relationship to the primary attachment figure, based in early experiences. The internal models influence the child’s expectations about future relationships. Adult relationships are likely to reflect early attachment styles. (secure or insecure)

This was illustrated in the ‘love-quiz’ experiment by Hazan and Shaver (1987). They conducted a study where they collected information from people about their early attachment experiences and their current romantic attitudes and experiences. They found that people who were securely attached, as infants, tended to have happy and lasting love relationships in adulthood. These people also believed that love was both enduring and based on mutual trust. Insecure types, on the other hand, found adult relationships more difficult, were more likely to be divorced and felt that true love was rare.

However, the association that Hazan and Shaver found may be unreliable because to found this they did a questionnaire in an American newspaper, therefore the participants could have social desirability and so answer in a biased way to be social desirable, and they could not be saying the whole truth. Also there is retrospective data and so when the participants recall past data they could recall it wrong, therefore the answer could be biased.

Nevertheless, further support for the effects of childhood attachments on future relationships was found by Morrison et al asked colleague students in the US describing their most intimate relationship. They also completed an attachment style inventory to asses their attachment style. He found that students with avoidant attachment style described more hostility in their relationship than did students with a secure style. Those with greater attachment security also described more interdependence in their relationships.

The Internal Working Model however, ignores other influences on behavior. It suggests that our future relationships are determined solely by our early relationships. For example, Zimmerman et al (2000) found that for the children he studied in Germany, early attachment type did not correlate to the type of attachment in adult relationship. This suggests early attachment type doesn’t affect your behavior in adult romantic relationships.

Nevertheless, there is still a great deal of evidence for the continuity hypothesis; however Bowlby’s explanation for it could be wrong. It may be that Social Learning Theory is an alternative explanation for how child-adult relationships affect future relationships. This theory states that parents may transmit ideas about opposite sex relationships to their children to their children through the process of modeling. Although adolescents may learn about intimacy from peers and the media, their exposure to intimacy from peers and the media, their exposure to intimacy is often through observing how their parents relate to each other, and also to them.

Childhood relationships with friends may also be important for future adult relationships as Qualter and Mann (2005) suggested that children learn about themselves as a direct result of their experiences with other children. These experiences are internalized in the form of expectations about future relationships. These internalized expectations influence how they approach adult relationships in much the same way as the internal working model outlined earlier.

The experiences we have as adolescents can also affect our adult relationships. Social Learning Theory suggests that our relationships with our parents when we are adolescents can impact adult relationships as Eriksson theory of psychosocial development. A major task of adolescent is working through intimacy issues. According to social learning theory, parents may transmit ideas about opposite sex relationships to...
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