New research suggests the quality of adult relationships may be linked to the family environment as a teen; a positive family climate as a teenager may help a marriage or a relationship in later life.

Researchers from of the University of Texas at Dallas have published their findings in Psychological Science.

Experts say that while the negative long-term effect of aggression and divorce has been shown to extend across generations, the impact of a positive family climate has received less attention.

In the study, researchers examined whether positive interpersonal behaviors in families might also have long-lasting associations with future relationships. To do this, researchers examined longitudinal data from individuals participating in the Iowa Youth and Families Project. Family interactions were assessed when the participants were in 7th grade.

Researchers coded family interactions for five indicators of positive engagement: listener responsiveness, assertiveness, prosocial behavior, effective communication and warmth-support.

Participants who showed and experienced more positive engagement in their families showed more positive engagement in their marriages 17 years later.

Interestingly, their spouses also showed more positive engagement. Participants who came from families that expressed more positive engagement also expressed less hostility toward their spouses, and their spouses displayed less hostile behavior toward them.

Greater levels of positive engagement at the family level in adolescence also predicted more relationship satisfaction for both partners.

Researchers believe the findings suggest a link between the family climate in adolescence and marriage quality later in life. The fact that these effects seemed to extend to participants’ spouses was especially interesting.

“Perhaps one of the most striking results from this work was that the quality of one marital partner’s family climate during adolescence was associated with marital outcomes for the other partner,” the researchers observe.

Experts posit that family dynamics can foster a supportive style of interacting that elicits similar behavior from a spouse down the road. Alternatively, it could be that individuals who grew up in families with a positive and warm climate actively seek out partners who provide a similar relationship environment.

Practically, researchers speculate that both mechanisms may be at work.

Ultimately, experts say that the results are consistent with the Development of Early Adult Romantic Relationships (DEARR) model, suggesting that early family experiences are linked to the development of a person’s relationship style into adulthood.

Source: Association for Psychological Science