Quality over quantity is a mantra you've surely heard: It's better to have a little of something great than a lot of something terrible (unless it's food, because honestly, more food is always better). What you might not have realized, however, is how this common saying translates into your love life. According to new research, the quality of your early relationships can affect you for life.
Researchers at the University of Denver studied 100 men and 100 women of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds over the course of nine years to figure out something we might not have guessed: Having a good relationship at an early stage of your life can seriously influence your psychosocial adjustment. Starting in tenth grade, participants completed questionnaires about their romantic relationships, while researchers sought to understand if all adolescent relationships were equally "risky" and if all young adult relationships were equally "protective."
In short, psychosocial functioning can involve both the internalization of symptoms (e.g. anxiety and depression) and the externalization of symptoms (e.g. aggression, delinquent behavior, impulsivity). Researchers examined factors like support, conflict, and perceived satisfaction in relationships and studied how they were related to these different kinds of psychosocial adjustment.
"We found that relationships that were more supportive and satisfying, and those that had fewer negative interactions were associated with better psychosocial adjustment, above and beyond the effects of simply being in a relationship," according to Charlene Collibee, a doctoral student at the University of Denver, who coauthored the study. "Therefore, it's not just having a romantic relationship that's linked to psychosocial functioning, but the nature of that relationship."
Also worth noting is that the internalization of symptoms and dating satisfaction strengthened as adolescents transitioned into young adulthood. This isn't altogether unsurprising: As we age, of course, our relationships often become more serious and have higher stakes than relationships we might have had during our teen years. Researchers concluded that their findings supported the idea that developing intimate romantic relationships is important, and becomes moreso as we age.
So while having a relationship during your adolescence can affect you, it is more likely to do so in significant ways if it is a positive, supportive relationship. The study concluded that promoting "high-quality" relationships may help young people adjust better both socially and psychologically, and may have positive consequences to their overall health and well-being.
Here are three other ways your early-in-life relationships might affect you down the road — apparently being young doesn't always mean you are carefree.
1. Losing Your Virginity
The first time you have sex might have more of an impact than you could ever have dreamed at the time. A 2012 study found that people who reported having more positive first-time experiences (with more intimacy and respect, for example) also reported greater sexual satisfaction and esteem later in life. Of course, if you had a bad experience while losing your virginity (as so many of us have), it doesn't mean you're doomed! You're always in control of your sex life, and if things aren't going well, you should never be afraid to have an open, honest dialogue about what you can do to make it better.
2. Being Bullied
It's not just romantic relationships that can take a toll on you when you're young and impressionable. Unsurprisingly, girls who are bullied during their adolescent years feel these devastating effects much later: Teen bullying has been linked to depression in adults, and can cause even more long-standing self-esteem and mental health problems. Even if people at the time told you to "suck it up" or that "bullying is part of growing up," being the victim of constant teasing can be really damaging at such a crucial age and should never be taken lightly. These kinds of mental health issues have the ability to impact your adult relationships, so even if you thought your past was behind you, you might find that your turbulent teen years are negatively impacting your adult self more than you want.
3. Family Ties
Similarly, your connection to your family can have a serious impact on your romantic relationships later in life. While it's unfair to assume that everyone from a "broken" family will be damaged goods, it's also unwise to ignore the research that shows how things like divorce can impact children well into adulthood. A 2012 study found that the "breakdown" of a family during childhood was strongly associated with psychological distress in your early 30s. The same study also found that children whose parents stayed together were less likely to suffer from certain health conditions, so coming from a broken home might also be a risk to your physical well-being.
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