Nav: Home

Childhood family environment linked with relationship quality 60 years later

October 11, 2016

Growing up in a warm family environment in childhood is associated with feeling more secure in romantic relationships in one's 80s, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The findings show that men who grew up in caring homes were more adept at managing stressful emotions when assessed as middle-aged adults, which helps to explain why they had more secure marriages late in life.

"Our study shows that the influences of childhood experiences can be demonstrated even when people reach their 80s, predicting how happy and secure they are in their marriages as octogenarians," says researcher Robert Waldinger of Harvard Medical School. "We found that this link occurs in part because warmer childhoods promote better emotion management and interpersonal skills at midlife, and these skills predict more secure marriages in late life."

The unique longitudinal study, which followed the same individuals for over six decades beginning in adolescence, provides evidence for the life-long effects of childhood experiences.

"With all the things that happen to human beings and influence them between adolescence and the ninth decade of life, it's remarkable that the influence of childhood on late-life marriage can still be seen," notes Marc Schulz, study co-author and professor at Bryn Mawr College.

Waldinger and Schulz examined data collected from 81 men who participated in a 78-year study of adult development, 51 of whom were part of a Harvard College cohort and 30 of whom were part of an inner-city Boston cohort. All of the men completed regular interviews and questionnaires throughout the course of the study.

To gauge the participants' early home environment, the researchers examined data collected when the participants were adolescents, including participants' reports about their home life, interviews with the participants' parents, and developmental histories recorded by a social worker. The researchers used these data to create a composite measure of family environment.

When the participants were 45 to 50 years old, they completed interviews in which they discussed the challenges they encountered in various aspects of their lives, including their relationships, their physical health, and their work. The research team used the original interview notes to rate participants' ability to manage their emotions in response to these challenges.

Finally, when participants were in their late 70s or early 80s, they completed a semistructured interview that focused on their attachment bond with their current partner. In these interviews, they were asked to talk about their marriages, including how comfortable they were depending on their partner and providing support to their partner. The researchers used data from these interviews to establish an overall rating of participants' security of attachment to their partner.

Waldinger and Schulz found that participants who had a nurturing family environment early in life were more likely to have secure attachments to their romantic partners late in life. Further analyses indicated that this association could be explained, in part, by better emotion regulation skills in midlife.

These results add to previous research showing that the quality of people's early home environments can have "far-reaching effects on wellbeing, life achievement, and relationship functioning throughout the lifespan," says Waldinger.

Taken together, these findings highlight the life-long effects of childhood experience, emphasize the importance of prioritizing the wellbeing of children, and suggest that supporting adaptive emotion management skills may help to lessen the impact of early childhood adversity, Waldinger and Schulz conclude.
-end-
This work was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01MH42248) and the National Institutes on Aging (R01AG045230).

For more information about this study, please contact: Robert J. Waldinger at rwaldinger@mgh.harvard.edu, or Marc Schulz at mschulz@brynmawr.edu.

More information about the Harvard Study of Adult Development can be found at http://www.adultdevelopmentstudy.org and Dr. Waldinger's TED talk about the Study can be viewed here.

The article abstract is available online: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/09/13/0956797616661556.abstract

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "The Long Reach of Nurturing Family Environments: Links With Midlife Emotion-Regulatory Styles and Late-Life Security in Intimate Relationships" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Emotions Articles:

How people want to feel determines whether others can influence their emotions
New Stanford research on emotions shows that people's motivations are a driving factor behind how much they allow others to influence their feelings, such as anger.
Moral emotions, a diagnotic tool for frontotemporal dementia?
A study conducted by Marc Teichmann and Carole Azuar at the Brain and Spine Institute in Paris (France) and at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital shows a particularly marked impairment of moral emotions in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
Emotions from touch
Touching different types of surfaces may incur certain emotions. This was the conclusion made by the psychologists from the Higher School of Economics in a recent empirical study.
Negative emotions can reduce our capacity to trust
It is no secret that a bad mood can negatively affect how we treat others.
Study examines how sensitivity to emotions changes across the lifespan
Why do we become more positive as we grow older?
Face it. Our faces don't always reveal our true emotions
When it comes to reading a person's state of mind, visual context -- as in background and action -- is just as important as facial expressions and body language, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.
Surrounded by low achievers -- High on positive emotions?
Study involving the University of Konstanz proves negative impacts of high-achieving environment on school students' individual emotional well-being.
Adults with autism can read complex emotions in others
New research shows for the first time that adults with autism can recognise complex emotions such as regret and relief in others as easily as those without the condition.
Interpreting emotions: A matter of confidence
We are exposed to the facial expressions of the people.
Football coaches between victories, defeats and emotions
Football coaches who have their emotions under control are more successful.
More Emotions News and Emotions Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.