Early Childhood Might Affect Love Life in Adult

WEDNESDAY Feb. 23, 2011 -- How quickly and smoothly people move on from a lover's quarrel has a lot to do with the relationships each partner had in earliest childhood with the people who raised them, new research reveals.

The finding stems from the the University of Minnesota's ongoing tracking of a group of people that began in the mid-1970s, before the study participants were even born.

Doctoral candidate Jessica E. Salvatore and a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota report their observations in the current issue of Psychological Science.

The authors explain that when the study participants reached the age of 20, each was asked to enlist his or her romantic partner in a discussion exercise in which they were first instructed to launch a topic of conversation about an issue on which there was disagreement.

The resulting quarrel was then followed by a second discussion of a subject on which the partners saw eye to eye. This discourse was viewed as a "cool-down" period, designed to transition away from the previous conflict.

However, Salvatore and her co-authors noticed that not all cool-downs transpired with equal ease. In some cases, the partners were able to quickly leave their fight behind; in others, one or both partners were unable to let go of the previous conflict.

A subsequent look at each partner's early childhood background (between the ages of 1 and 18 months) unearthed a connection between the quality of their early connection to their caregivers and their ability to move on from conflict as adults.

Specifically, those who had more so-called "secure" attachments to their childhood caregivers seemed to have less of a problem dealing with conflict in the present. In other words, caregivers who had more success regulating the negative emotions of their young wards instilled them with better coping skills for dealing with negative emotions as adults.

That said, the authors noted that those with saddled with a less-than-idyllic past are not necessarily doomed to live out a contentious present. Their suggestion: when it comes to compensating for an emotionally negative childhood, marry up -- emotionally.

"We found that people who were insecurely attached as infants but whose adult romantic partners recover well from conflict are likely to stay together," Salvatore noted. "If one person can lead this process of recovering from conflict, it may buffer the other person and the relationship."

"That, to us, was the most exciting finding," he added. "There's something about the important people later in our lives that changes the consequences of what happened earlier."

More information

For more on conflict resolution, visit helpguide.org.

Posted: February 2011


View comments

Hide
(web1)