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Research Report: The Effects of Parent/Relationships on Romantic Relationships

Exciting Surprise

Project Type

College Assignment

Assignment Description

As part of a research project, I conducted an in-depth investigation on the topic of the correlation between individuals' relationships with their parents and their romantic relationships. My research addressed the question: "Are individuals with unhealthy relationships with their parents more likely to have unhealthy romantic relationships?" To answer this question, I conducted research to answer this question, analyzed data and statistics, conducted surveys, entered my results into SPSS, and drew conclusions based on my findings. The research process required rigorous attention to detail and the ability to integrate information from various sources. Through this project, I was able to develop my research and critical thinking skills further and gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics involved in familial and romantic relationships.

Research Report: The Effects of Parent/Relationships on Romantic Relationships

Angelina Robles

Grand Canyon University

COM 355

Dr. Matt Nolen

April 23, 2022


The rise of failed romantic relationships has been accompanied by negative relationships with parents. Various studies have researched whether relationships with your parents affect future relationships. A study by the National Institute of Health stated that young adults raised with a healthy and positive family life were more likely to have healthy romantic relationships (Rutkowski, 2018).  This topic is of importance and significance because the marriage rate in the United States has reached an all-time low. “For every 1,000 unmarried adults, in 2019, only 33 got married” (Wang, n.d). Birth rates outside of marriage in America have increased from 28 percent to 40 percent since 1990 (Wildsmith et al., 2018). These studies have found a significant difference in comparison to years previous. The implications of the direct correlation between the relationship with our parents and our romantic partners deserve to be further investigated. This study aims to answer the following question: Are people with unhealthy relationships with their parents more likely to have unhealthy romantic relationships?


Literature Review

Every household is not perfect, and everyone wishes the way they were brought up was different in some way or another. The people who endured very unhealthy adolescent experiences can profoundly shape who they become. When researching this case, the theme that comes up is that people who witness and experience unhealthy relationships between their parents have self-esteem issues. The effects of witnessing divorce can affect an individual’s mental health. Studies show that many people who do not have an excellent example of healthy relationships tend to turn to unhealthy relationships, lack trust in people, and develop toxic attachment styles. In a study by Claire Cartwright (2006), she stated that there is evidence that adult children of divorce experience increased mental health difficulties. The traumatic experience of witnessing a relationship fall apart causes people to experience issues with “self-concept, communication challenges, confidence issues, and relationship problems in general” (Roth et al., 2014). Subjection to divorce or negative relationships has been linked to unpleasant outcomes in connection to romantic relationships. Children of divorced parents are at greater risk for marital difficulties and divorce themselves (Cui et al., 2008). Self-efficacy in relationships is a significant factor in how someone will respond to conflict, and the responses influence a relationship's fulfillment.  A mechanism that links parental divorce and interparental conflict to offspring romantic relationship behavior is efficacy beliefs. Both efficacy beliefs and offspring relationship behavior can link parents’ marriage to offspring's romantic relationship quality in early adulthood. (Cui et al., 2008).  The efficacious are confident about their abilities and approach complex tasks as challenges to master rather than as threats to avoid (Bandura, 1994).  In this study, that threat is conflict in relationships. Concerning the theme commonly found in this study, another concept is that self-esteem issues that root in experiencing and witnessing unhealthy relationships between their parents affect more females than males. Cartwright (2006) found that ‘young women close to their fathers before learning about their extramarital affairs affected their view of men and sense of security and relationships”. Witnessing a man, they view highly of lying and cheating on a woman possibly changed and altered their perspective of men forever. The male role model betrayed the female role model in their life and as a result, caused them to lose trust in most men.  This resulted in an adverse effect on their future romantic relationships. In addition to the pressures of social media and unrealistic beauty standards, women have more difficulty dealing with these issues than men do. It was found that the “effects of parental divorce were more significant for females than for males on the dimensions of distress, dissatisfaction and problem behavior” (Roth et al., 2014). “A secure attachment relationship with the father appears to have a profound effect on daughters' behavior. It has been documented that adolescent females securely attached to their fathers are three times less likely to engage in sexual activity before age 16 than their insecure counterparts” (Ranson & Urichuk, 2008). The impact that a parental figure has on a young woman is profound. Societies pressures and toxic practices that occur influence impressionable and vulnerable girls immensely. Young girls require a strong and solid home life to aid them in developing into grown women. It helps build their self-esteem, security, and respect for themselves and others. Another theme that arose was that people with secure attachment styles feel more secure in romantic relationships. It was found that those who classified themselves as having a secure attachment style were less likely to experience parental divorce than those with avoidant or ambivalent attachment styles (Seiffge-Krenke et al., 2001). Unhealthy styles of attachment point to experiencing a failed future romantic relationship. “A person with a secure representation of parental attachment would be comfortable turning to a romantic partner in distress. Someone with an avoidant representation of attachment to parents would be reluctant to depend on a romantic partner. An individual with an ambivalent representation of attachment to parents would feel uncertain about a romantic partner’s availability and, thus, find it difficult to be comforted by the partner” (Furman et al., 2002). The issues one has with their parents carry out in every aspect of their lives. It not only alters our romantic relationships and friendships but also how we carry ourselves throughout the duration of life. It can be frightening to realize, but the relationship with our parents could possibly dictate the course of our life. The last theme that stood out in this study area was that social and emotional competence is linked to attachment styles and translates into future relationships. Parents who mediate their children's peer interactions by setting up meetings with peers, overseeing play, and conferring on peer issues, have children with more favorable interpersonal traits. Nurturing parenting practices is linked to beneficial qualities of romantic relationships earlier in life (Madsen, 2008). The way one parent has a lasting effect on how their children approach a long-lasting companionship. It is essential for someone to have a healthy example of what a relationship is supposed to look like. Children are immensely observant, and they absorb all that is around them. When one surrounds a child with unhealthy communication styles, neglect, abuse, and undermining all of their wants and needs, you are doing a disservice to them. That is not setting them up for a life full of healthy relationships. Most people “link the divorce process to self-concept, communication challenges, and difficulty trusting others” (Roth et al., 2014). Enduring the tragedy of your parents divorcing and witnessing them argue in unhealthy ways has a long-lasting effect on how an individual views relationships. “Parental conflict impacts confidence in relationship sustainability and relationship formation problems” (Roth et al., 2024). It is vital that we educate young people so that they can learn the proper and healthy communication styles to have a good relationship.


To investigate and appropriately collect the data, this study's questionnaire was conducted by using a non-probability sampling method, specifically snowball sampling. “It is called “the snowball effect because the amount of participants increases and gets larger, rolling into a bigger snowball. Non-probability sampling means that researchers, or other participants, choose the sample instead of randomly selecting it, so not all population members have an equal chance of being selected for the study” (Simkus, n.d).

By utilizing an audience of five thousand on social media, the link to this survey study was posted requesting participation in the research. Two people in support of this study posted the link to the survey on personal social media pages as well, so the possibility of reaching a more diverse audience of all ages and backgrounds increased. The scale used and edited to adapt this study more efficiently is the Relationship Scale Questionnaire by Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994.  The measures used were questions that resulted in primarily ordinal variables, meaning that the response was measured from lowest to highest. (Baxter et al., 2014). An example of a question asked was, “I find it easy to get emotionally close to others,” and the options to respond were; Strongly disagree, Disagree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Agree, and Strongly Agree. These variables allow the study to clearly understand how people genuinely feel about asked questions. Nominal variables were also included in the questionnaire. Nominal variables are “variables with attributes that have only the characteristics of exhaustiveness and mutual exclusiveness are being measured” (Baxter et al., 2014). The types of indicators used are qualitative variables. Qualitative variables are data under the nonnumerical scale; they are attributes (Baxter et al., 2014). These variables allow the study to find out whom the data is coming from and how it compares to others that are the same and different. Race, sex, political party, etc., are under the nominal scale.

To correctly understand the statistical significance of the data, all collected data will be entered into SPSS, testing the study's hypothesis using Pearson’s r test. “The Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient (r) is one of the most frequently used parametric statistics in communication research. The correlation co-efficient is a value that captures the extent to which two variables, measured at the interval or ratio level, are linearly related. To use the correlation statistic, the two variables must be measured for each unit of analysis” (Baxter et al., 2014). This allows the hypothesis to be tested by comparing and contrasting all findings. After doing all this, interpretation of the data, analysis reporting, and discussion of results found, conclude this study.


Among 215 participants from the survey, all 215 were valid for statistical analyses.

 Of these 215 participants, there were 147 female participants (80.9%) and 40 male participants (18.6%), while one other did not indicate their sex. The average age of the participants was 38.3(SD = 18). The ethnic composition of the sample was: 32.2% White, 4.7% Black or African American, 52.8% Hispanic or Latino, 0.9% American Indian/Alaska Native, 3.7% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 5.1% Other. One participant did not indicate their ethnicity. The political views of the sample were 20.1% Very Liberal, 18.2% Slightly Liberal, 39.3% Moderate, 15% Slightly Conservative, and 5.6% Very Conservative. One participant did not specify their political views. The religious composition of the sample was 44.9% Catholicism, 34.6% Christianity, .9% Judaism, 1.4% Buddhism, and .5% Hinduism. Twenty-two participants (10.3%) did not indicate their religion. For the hypothesis that people who do not experience a healthy relationship with their parents are more likely to experience unhealthy romantic relationships, there was a significant correlation between the two, r= .155, n=214, p=.023. Therefore, we reject the null hypothesis.





The data in the collected study demonstrates and supports that it is more likely for people who do not have a healthy relationship with their parents to have an unhealthy romantic relationship. This coincides with and further backs up the concept of social and emotional competence linking to attachment styles that can further translate into future relationships and that issues with self-esteem can originate from experiencing parents' separation. This also supports the findings that individuals with secure attachment styles feel more secure in romantic relationships. The importance of a healthy, wholesome relationship with parents is great. Having an affinity with a parent gives individuals a higher morale and as a result, allows them to accept people in their life romantically that will best suit them. In the survey for this study, participants were asked if they desired to have a better relationship with their children than the relationships they had with their parents or a similar relationship. “Participant 157 (65 years old, Female, Hispanic or Latino, Strongly disagreed with questioning their romantic partner's love for them, Parents not divorced) mentioned that she always wished for similar relationships with their children, including feeling that her “parents were always there for her and were very supportive…[her] siblings and she have all been pretty successful in their lives…...[her] father and mother never fought and very were affectionate with one another…and were a good example of a great relationship”. Other participants that similarly (disagreed with questioning their romantic partners' love for them), agreed, “[she] always wished to have a similar relationship. [Her] parents were loving and supportive…. [she] has always been loving and supportive with [her] daughter…[her daughter and her] are close, loving, and respectful of each other’s feelings and recognize boundaries”(Participant 89[46-year-old, Hispanic Latino, Parents not divorced). In contrast, other participants that questioned their partner's love for them did not want a similar relationship. “The way [she} will go about discipline, responsibilities, morals, communication will be a lot better than [her parents]; they have made it very impossible to communicate in a healthy way” (Participant 19[21-year-old, Female, Native American or American Indian, Strongly Agreed with questioning their romantic partners love for them, Parents not divorced]). An individual’s relationship with their parents affects their sense of self and, as a result, influences their romantic relationships.



Limitations and Future Research

Adequate participation was accomplished, but due to other variables, the research was not a true reflection of what America looks like today. A big imitation in the research was the lack of diversity in the participation of the survey conducted.  Social media was used to employ participants to take the survey, and the audience that followed said social media page had similar personal demographics. This cultural bias did not allow the study an accurate account of the rest of the world's experience regarding their relationship with their parents and their romantic relationships. Another limitation in the research was that, for one of the demographic questions in the survey regarding religion, only some of the most popular religions were listed. The question was, “If applicable, please select your religion.” Several participants just left that question blank. If the question was reworded, it could have allowed participants to fill in their religion and or belief. This would have helped specify if the participant was not religious or their religion was not an option to choose from in the survey. For future research, soliciting participation from a more diverse group will improve research. The time constraint restricted requesting the involvement of people with a more diverse demographic. It is difficult to get a clear idea of the relationship one has with a parent and how one functions in a romantic relationship just from a few questions. Conducting personal interviews, asking them the original survey questions, requesting elaboration to their responses, and asking follow-up questions, allows room to collect more solid research.  This will give an improved methodical conclusion to this study.


As the marriage rate in the United States has reached an all-time low, it becomes increasingly central to understand what factors have caused people to turn away from committed romantic relationships. By surveying a group of 215 people, this study established that people with healthier relationships with their parents have better self-esteem and are more likely to develop healthier romantic relationships. The correlation between having unhealthy relationships with parents and unhealthy relationships with romantic partners was significant. This suggests that although it is possible for someone to have an unhealthy relationship with a parent and still have a healthy romantic relationship, people who do not have a good relationship with their parents are at greater risk of having low self-esteem and experiencing negative romantic relationships. Future research into negative parent/child relationships and failed romantic relationships should focus on establishing a clearer picture of how self-esteem directly influences attachment styles and communication. Additionally, while this experiment measured the link between negative relationships with parents and negative romantic relationships, a more demographically diverse study is required to understand better why there is a significant correlation and whom it affects. This will allow researchers to discern whether certain cultures, ethnicities, religions, etc., correspond with the effects of unhealthy child-parent relationships and self-esteem issues.


Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.],  Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).

Baxter, L. A., & Babbie, E. R. (2014). The basics of communication research. Cengage Learning.

Cartwright, C (2006). You Want to Know How It Affected Me? Young Adults’ Perceptions of the Impact of Parental Divorce. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage., 44(3/4), 125–143.

  Cui, Fincham, F. D., & Pasley, B. K. (2008). Young Adult Romantic Relationships: The Role of Parents’ Marital Problems and Relationship Efficacy. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(9), 1226–1235.

  Furman, Simon, V. A., Shaffer, L., & Bouchey, H. A. (2002). Adolescents Working Models and Styles for Relationships with Parents, Friends, and Romantic Partners. Child Development, 73(1), 241–255.

Madsen. (2008). Parents’ Management of Adolescents’ Romantic Relationships Through Dating Rules: Gender Variations and Correlates of Relationship Qualities. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(9), 1044–1058.

  Ranson, & Urichuk, L. J. (2008). The effect of parent-child attachment relationships on child biopsychosocial outcomes: a review. Early Child Development and Care, 178(2), 129–152.

Roth, Katia & Harkins, Debra & Eng, Laura. (2014). Parental Conflict During Divorce as an Indicator of Adjustment and Future Relationships: A Retrospective Sibling Study. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. 55. 117-138. 10.1080/10502556.2013.871951

Rutkowski , C. (2018, August 14). Early family experience affects later romantic relationships. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from 

 Seiffge-Krenke, Shulman, S., & Kiessinger, N. (2001). Adolescent Precursors of Romantic Relationships in Young Adulthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18(3), 327–346.

Simkus, J. (n.d.). Snowball sampling: Definition, method and examples. Snowball Sampling: Definition, Method and Examples - Simply Psychology. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from 

Wang, W. (n.d.). The U.S. divorce rate has hit a 50-year low. Institute for Family Studies. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from 

Wildsmith, E., Manlove, J., & Cook, E. (2018, August 8). Dramatic increase in the proportion of births outside of marriage in the United States from 1990 to 2016. Child Trends. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from 

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