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Childhood Experiences Influence Adult Romance

Relationships and attachments experienced in childhood appear to influence the way in which individuals think, feel, and behave in their adult romantic relationships. The finding comes from an ongoing 25 year study of individuals during four pivotal points in their lives—infancy, early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

The report is published in the he recent issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

At the time of year when many reflect on their romantic experiences—Valentine’s Day, this study sheds light on how relationships are shaped by early experiences.

At the first checkpoint when the participants were 12-months old, caregivers reported on the children’s attachment and exploratory behavior. At the second checkpoint when the participants were 6-8 years old, the participant’s teachers were asked to rate how well the children interacted with their peers. At the third checkpoint the16 years old, participants were asked to describe their close friendships.

At the most recent reporting, the participants’ romantic partners (of at least 4 months) were asked to describe their experiences and their partner’s expressions of emotion during their relationship. Interactions of the couples were also observed and coded to evaluate the expression of emotion and their interpersonal dynamics.

The findings of this study supported previous attachment theories. Expression of emotions in adult romantic relationships can be related back to a person’s attachment experiences during earlier social development.

Those participants who were secure and attached as infants were rated with higher social competence as children. Children who were socially competent amongst peers were found to be more secure and closer to their friends at age 16. Participants who were closer to friends as a teen were more expressive and emotionally attached to their romantic partners in early adulthood.

“The current findings highlight one developmental pathway through which significant relationship experiences during the early years of life are tied to the daily experiences in romantic relationships during early adulthood,” said W. Andrew Collins, lead author and University of Minnesota psychology professor.

“One encouraging finding, however, is that the study does not suggest that an individual’s past unalterably determines the future course of his/her relationships.”

Source: American Psychological Association (APA)

Childhood Experiences Influence Adult Romance

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Childhood Experiences Influence Adult Romance. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 25, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.