Running head: FAMILY STRUCTURE AND WARMTH
Family Structure and Warmth Growing Up
Relates To Personal Adult Relationships
Northern Arizona University
The relationship between family environment at an adolescent age and younger and current adult personal relationships was explored, including degree of warmth and the structure in the family. This was measured in a survey structure with 2 levels of scales, one yes/no and the other a likert scale of 1-5. Our purpose for the research was to find a correlation with family structure growing up and current satisfaction of relationships. Our study did not indicate a relationship with family environment and satisfaction of relationships, unfortunately. Our study was not supportive with previous research conducted due to limitations.
Family Structure and Warmth Growing Up
Relates To Personal Adult Relationships
Numerous studies have been conducted to investigate the effects of childhood experience on adult life not only in the past three decades since Psychology has gained some popularity but reverting back centuries. Although those studies may not be scientific in method they have helped pave the way for psychological research. One earlier report consists of research done by Jill Mathews Thies. “Nearly one million American adults crowd divorce courts annually to sever their marital bonds, while some 800,000 rush to the alter to re-tie the knot, hoping this time to capture the promise of “happily ever after”. As their parents scramble in the pursuit of connubial happiness, children often encounter events of staggering psychological complexity” (Thies, 1977). While Thies’ journal may not have been based on an experiment her words came from her life experience and professional experience as a clinical social worker. Her familiarity with divorce and remarriage is showcased in her depth of knowledge in childhood anguish and confusion due to parental divorce, separation or remarriage. One can assume that for a child these issues would be impactful whether positive or negative. A child’s parents are a main influence, focus, and source of guidance for children; children are very impressionable in their actions, life choices, and opinions. Not only is adolescent mental health in jeopardy but also physical health too. Troxler & Matthwes (2004) performed a professional article search on a basis of how a young child’s relationship with their parents and the amount of conflict in the marriage relates to the child’s physical health. They found that greater amount of dissolution in the parental relationship and more conflict present the greater risk the child is at for unhealthy physiological pathway reconstruction. The articles that made up the backbone of this study were
discussing stress responses, neurological pathways, and risky health behaviors all affected by conflict in the home and child’s life caused by the parent’s divorce/separation/conflict. A sample of 207 young adults at a university health clinic volunteered for an investigation into the effects of marital conflict, remarriage, amount of parental conflict, post-divorce living styles, and of what age the child was when divorce occurred (Frank, 2007). This study also examined the gender of the participant in relation to sibling relationships and parent-child relationships. Frank discovered, like many others, that divorce has a significant impact on personal relationships no matter what gender the child may be. She also found that the father-daughter or father-son relationship is much more fragile to divorce when compared to the more positive found relationship of the mother-daughter or mother-son. Through a twenty year longitudinal study Constance R. Ahrons drew data from a binuclear family study of 178 grown children twenty years after their parents had divorced. The binuclear study found that the better the relationship the parents had with the children at the time of the marital conflict, during the divorce, and throughout their adulthood the more satisfied the child was currently and the better the relationship that child had with the parents now. From these findings one can infer the opposite: the worse the relationship between child and parents during the divorce could result in a more negative relationship with the parents now and less of a satisfaction for the child. Many researchers believe that there is a deeper darker source of trauma than parental divorce or distress possibly a source for adult relationship dissatisfaction. “It was hypothesized that compared to people without childhood traumas, those who had experienced traumatic events during childhood would be more likely to experience marital disruption (i.e., divorce or separation) and would report lower marital satisfaction” (Whisman, 2006, 379). Whisman Family Structure 5
conducted a nationwide face to face study with 8,098 participants ranging from age 15 to 54 and representing 48 states. His study focused on traumatic events in childhood and adult marital status in relation to satisfaction. Concurrent with previous research, Whisman found childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse to have a profound effect on marital issues and satisfaction of relationships in adulthood. Along with many origins for adult unhappiness may be childhood psychological distress, and some could agree that parental conflict could be a source for this. “…A college sample of adults with a history of childhood psychological abuse reported feeling significantly less lovable and likable on a measure of self esteem than those without such a history. These findings suggest that psychological abuse may contribute to self-perceptions that impact negatively on interpersonal relationships” (Davis, Petretic-Jackson, & Ting, 2001, 64). Divorce has deep consequences for the children left in the cross fire including greater percentage of unemployment periods, less education, higher rates of divorce, and a greater amount of risky behavior according to a 16 year follow up study of 317 divorce offspring when compared to 1,069 two parent non divorced offspring (Huurre, Junkkari & Aro, 2006). Data from numerous sources has detected a lean in research from effects on solely children when they are young to the long term damage family issues cause adults in social and intimate relationships. Poor judgment relating to spousal involvement of the parents instills in young children a lack of trust, commitment, poor decision making skills towards adult partnerships and a sense of fear for the future (Shulman, Scharf, Lumer, & Maurer, 2001). Shulman and colleagues found these characteristics in their study of 51 Israeli adults who were currently in an intimate relationship and offspring of divorced parents. Continuing with research found consisting of negative effects Family Structure 6
on life outcomes in children of divorced parents, a longitudinal study involving 2,194 students that took a survey about their family life at age 16 in school and were followed up with at age 22 to see further changes in life developments. Aro and Palosaari (1992) found that there was a higher rate of smoking and drinking, more frequent negative life events, less plans for future college studies, and in females more were seriously dating at age 22.
Interestingly, there was an archival study conducted about children of divorce and mortality; the basis for the research, as stated by the authors, was the lack of knowledge consisting of mortality and risk taking personality changes after dealing with divorce as a child. The fact that many other factors of life are affected by family distress would lead one to question, what about death? Dealing with the separation of one’s parents could change a child’s way of thinking, personality, and how they handle situations in life. These behavior modifications could be negative causing the child to act of and make riskier decisions, in turn leading to a possibly sooner death (Tucker, Friedman, Schwartz, Criqui, Tomlinson, Wingard, & Martin, 1997).
All of these articles and previous studies lay the groundwork and theory for our research project. Whether the impact is divorce alone, parents separating when kids are little, abuse in the home, or just plain lack of love family environment growing up has proven to be impactful in adulthood which is why we decided to look at family environment in relevance to satisfaction in relationships later in life. We wanted to know the relation between warmth growing up in home and satisfaction in adult relationships and also structure growing up in relation to adult satisfaction so we conducted a correlation analysis with the data we received from our fellow Research Methods In Psychology students by means of a questionnaire. Family Structure 7
We conducted an observational correlation focused on family structure and warmth in the home of a child and the relation to adult relationships. Two criterion variables were used Family Environment and Satisfaction of Personal Relationships. We were predicting that degree of warmth and structure of the family would affect how a person would rate their satisfaction in their relationships. If the child was close, meaning they reported “yes” on a positive relationship with their parents and siblings when they were 15 years old or younger, and their parents were not divorced that they would rate their satisfaction in a more positive outcome. Participants
Our participants were 53 students taking a Research Methods In Psychology course in Spring of 2008. The participants were asked to fill out a consent form and were not compensated for their time, this was strictly on a volunteer basis. The majority of participants were female at 74%, and the major ethnicity was Caucasian at 87%. Most students anonymously self reported to be Psychology or Criminal Justice majors with an average age of 21.2 years old. This class is an upper division class and it was composed mainly of junior level college students. These demographics were not surprising, fully expected. Materials
We composed a questionnaire of twenty items relating or referring directly to Family Environment and Satisfaction of Relationships (See Appendix ). Family structure and warmth were also broken down into selected questions. A set of two different scales were used to measure items appropriately. Measuring the personal family structure and warmth questions Family Structure8
were simple yes/no answers. An example being, “Were your parents divorced at any point?” These needed to be straight to the point and get the most accurate description of the family set up when the person was a child. The satisfaction scale was a likert scale of 1-5 representing an opinion of “Miserable”, “Unhappy”, “Indifferent”, “Happy”, and “Extremely Happy” relative to their relationships. One of these questions was,” How satisfied are you in your current relationship with your parents?” Procedure
Participants were gathered in their usual Research Methods In Psychology classroom and class period. They were given a consent packet for two different collections of surveys and questionnaires. If the participant did not want to be involved they were not required, this was volunteer basis only. Each willing person filled the consent forms out and received two packets of different questionnaires to fill out. At the end of each packet the individuals were given a debriefing form to inform them of what the studies they just filled out were focused on. When the participants were finished with all parts of the study they were free to leave the classroom. Results
Remember our hypothesis, family structure and warmth in the home during childhood relates to satisfaction of current adult relationships. To explore Family Structure questions 1-8 were asked but questions 4-8 turned out to be redundant and unnecessary (See Appendix). Further in the questionnaire Warmth of the Family relations was assessed with questions 9-13, and most were appropriate and useful except question 13 (See Appendix). Similar to asking about parent’s remarriage if they had answered “yes” to divorce, when we asked if the participants had a positive relationship with their stepparents many did not answer this question Family Structure 9
so this data was not used in our analysis. To evaluate current structure of intimate relationships we asked questions 14-17 (See Appendix) and came to the conclusion that these were repetitive and not very valuable to the data. Question number 18 addressed whether or not the participant was in a current intimate relationship just reworded towards satisfaction leading us to believe if they answered this question they were indeed in a relationship, the type was not informative for our research.
To test our hypothesis we ran our data through a correlation analysis. We initially performed one large 10 X 10 correlation matrix and through further analysis realized that the variables discussed above were not essential, so they were excluded. We continued by performing two different matrixes to compare Family Structure and Satisfaction Of Current Relationships and also Warmth in the Home and Satisfaction of Relationships (See Table 1). The first part of our hypothesis was to see if Family Structure had any relation to Satisfaction of Current Relationships and we found significant results. If the parents divorced when the child was young there was significance found between being raised in a single parent family ( r = .54, p < .05 ) . There was also a significance found when parents divorced and being raised by relatives ( r = .43, p < .05 ). There was no significant correlation found between the parents getting a divorce and the satisfaction of the individual’s current relationships.
Also in Table 1 you can see that there was a weak correlation between being raised by a single parent and being raised by other relatives ( r = .29, p < .05 ). There was a negative correlation found when raised by other relatives and satisfaction of current relationship with parents ( r = -.29, p < .05 ) . The most significant relationship found for this matrix was the
Family Structure 10
satisfaction of current relationship with the parents and the current relationship with the siblings ( r = .78, p < .05 ). The other half of our hypothesis was discovering what relation there was between Warmth in the Home and Satisfaction of Current Relationships and a second correlation matrix was performed for this reason (See Table 2). Many significant relations were found including when the participants had a positive relationship with their siblings there was correlation with having a positive relationship with their mother ( r = .35, p < .05 ). If one had a positive relationship growing up with their father there was a strong correlation with having a positive relationship with both parents ( r = .91, p < .05 ), but when there was a positive relationship with their mother there was not as strong of a correlation with both parents ( r = .28, p < .05 ). There were moderate correlation found between positive relationship with mother ( r = .40, p <.05 ), positive relationship with father ( r = .49, p< .05 ), and positive relationship with both ( r = .47, p < .05 ) in relation to the current satisfaction of the relationship with the parents. There was also found a significant correlation between positive relationship with the father growing up and current satisfaction with the siblings ( r = .55, p < .05 ). Relationships between positive relationships with both parents growing up and satisfaction of current relationship with siblings was also significant ( r = .48, p < .05 ). When participants were satisfied in the current relationship with their parents there was a moderate correlation with being currently satisfied in the relationship with siblings.
Our group also configured frequency figures for the main variables we researched (See Figure 1). For Family Structure, 50 participants reported that their parents were married at one point when they were young, compared to 3 that said they were not. 34 reported their parents did Family Structure 11
not get a divorce when they were young, contrasted with 19 that said their parents did divorce at one point when they were little. 18 participants reported their parents being separated when they were young, and 35 stated their parents did not separate at any point when they were below the age of 15 ( r = 0, p < .05 ).
In Figure 2 a frequency chart was conducted to present information about Warmth in the Home. 43 participants in our study said they had a positive relationship with their siblings growing up and 8 said they did not. 38 reported to have a positive relationship with their father. 47 of 53 participants had a positive relationship with their mother when they were young. 36 members had a positive relationship with both of their parents when they were little.
Satisfaction of Current Relationships was also analyzed (See Figure 3) for frequency and found that most participants, 14 out of 53, in our study reported “extremely happy” in their current intimate relationship. The majority of participants, 22 out of 53, reported being “happy” in their current relationship with their siblings and also the majority said they were happy with their current relationship with their parents, 25 of 53 people. Discussion
Our study did supplement previous findings about positive warmth when young and growing up relating to more satisfaction of relationships especially familial relationships. Our hypothesis was not supported; Family Structure and Warmth in the Home did not significantly correlate to Satisfaction in Current Relationships. Although our study did find surprising and unexpected results, such as having a positive relationship with your father when you are young means you are more likely to have a positive relationship with both of your parents when you are Family Structure12
older. Considering majority of our participants were females, ( n = 39 ), and a decent amount of research has shown a negative relationship between father and daughter when divorce, separation, or marital distress is present. To find that 19 people in our study had divorced parents and still there was that great level of significance, ( r = .91, p < .05 ) shows that our study did contribute to the main body of knowledge. Limitations
Our study had several limitations including but not limited to lack of sample size; 53 college age students at a University is not an ideal sampling. I feel we did not have a sufficient amount of representation for divorced population, n = 19. We also lacked an adequate number of participants currently in an intimate relationship. All three contribute to the lack of support towards our hypothesis. Future Recommendations
If I were to re due this research I would gather as many participants as I could from a larger age range. Larger sample size is a necessary key to finding unbiased clean and natural data. A reevaluation of our scales would need to be in order, asking simple yes or no questions limited our thoughts and ideas and only rating satisfaction of relationships was not sufficient enough. I also recommend true random sampling in the whole population to see if location, age, and gender have a role in these correlations. Furthermore, to investigate the effect of attachment would be wise considering we had many more females in our sample that could contribute to our data. An attachment theory could explain why certain relationships with parents were more positive growing up and in adulthood if the majority of participants were female.
Ahrons, C. R. (2007). Family ties after divorce: Long-term implications for children. Family Process. 46(1), 53-65. Aro, H. M., & Palosaari, U. K. (1992). Parental divorce, adolescence, and transition to young adulthood: A follow-up study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 62(3), 421-429. Davis, J. L., Petretic-Jackson, P. A., & Ting, L. (2001). Intimacy dysfunction and trauma symptomatology: Long-term correlates of different types of child abuse. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 14(1), 63-79. Frank, H. (2007).Young adults' relationship with parents and siblings: The role of marital status, conflict and post-divorce predictors. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. 46(3-4), 105-124. Huurre, T., Junkkari, H., & Aro, H. (2006). Long-term psychosocial effects of parental divorce: A follow-up study from adolescence to adulthood. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience. 256(4), 256-263. Shulman, S., Scharf, M., Lumer, D., & Maurer, O. (2001). Parental divorce and young adult children's romantic relationships: Resolution of the divorce experience. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 71(4), 472-478. Thies, J. M. (1977). Beyond divorce: The impact of remarriage on children. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology. 6(2), 59-61.