Young Love: What Causes Dysfunctional Romance?

August 2013

The way young adults respond to the intense emotions that come with romance may say something about how they were brought up. Recent graduate Michelle Kuhn, BA ’13, looked at factors such as cultural background, learned behaviors, and predisposition to depression and social phobia to see whether they foreshadow dysfunctional relationships for individuals aged 18-25.

During her senior year, Kuhn worked with Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training Christina Gee, to develop a survey to gauge how individuals acted during their most recent romantic relationships. She looked at whether these actions and interactions correlated with what the individuals observed in other influential relationships in their lives, including those of their parents, adult mentors, peers, or siblings. Kuhn’s questionnaire was based on findings from Gee’s earlier study on relationship behaviors.

“Results have shown significant correlations between observed relationship behaviors—both positive and negative—and the behaviors individuals demonstrate in their own relationships,” said Kuhn. “That includes how they communicate with their loved ones, support each other, and how much time they spend with their significant other.”

The study’s preliminary findings indicate that young adults in romantic relationships tend to behave in the same manner as their parents.

“For example, if individuals witness their parents physically fighting early in their lives, they may be more likely to do so in their own relationships,” explained Gee. “However, if the individuals appraise these behaviors as undesirable then they would be less likely to model that behavior in their own romantic relationships.”


Kuhn noted that romances during one’s emerging adulthood are important in determining how people will address future relationships. “It is likely that individuals will continue to demonstrate many of the behaviors they have reported in this study,” Kuhn said. “However, I would hypothesize that the behaviors individuals demonstrate, but do not desire or admire in themselves, will be more likely to change than those they view positively or ambivalently.”

Kuhn and Gee presented results of the study at the American Psychological Association's convention in July. Kuhn began a doctoral program in clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University this fall.


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