Some relationships are characterised by conflict and strain and this can be detrimental to mental health in youth. Romantic relationships are important for mental health during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Satisfaction in the relationship is strongly related to regard and empathy with the partner (Cramer 2003). Intimacy increases positive feelings in the relationship. The perceived quality of a relationship depends more on the presence of intimacy than on absence of conflict (Laurenceau 2005).
We have already noted the various the reactions to breakup of relationships. We now take a look at some psychological aspects of conflict and strain in ongoing relationships of young persons.
Gender aspects of ongoing relationshipsFor a young woman an ongoing and current relationship is associated with feelings of psychological well-being. For her just being in a romantic relationship provides a social identity and increases feelings of self- worth. This need to be in a relationship increases especially when there is gender inequality in the family. After a recent breakup; the altered social identity and reduction of self-worth make her prone to clinical depression.
For young men the quality of the ongoing relationship is more important. Men’s identity and feelings of self-worth are greatly affected by the support or strain they experience from their partner. This is because their romantic partner is their primary source of intimacy. In contrast young women have intimate relationships with family and friends. (Simon & Barrett, 2010). Men benefit more than women from support gained through a relationship; they are also more disturbed than women by strain in an ongoing relationship. When in a strained relationship men are likely to develop substance abuse problems.
Conflict in relationshipsThe quality of conflict negotiation between the partners in a relationship evolves over time. Initially the romantic bond overshadows the ability to acknowledge and deal with differences. The partners downplay their disagreements and fail to negotiate their differences. Later on, in stable relationships there is an increasing capability to recognize and face disagreements and to negotiate them in a better manner (Shulman 2008).
Personal characteristics and attachment style also play a role. Self-directed and autonomous people are generally less defensive and more understanding in their response to conflict (Knee 2005). Insecure, anxious individuals experience more conflict with their dating partners. Their conflicts tend to escalate in severity. These individuals require daily support to experience satisfaction with the relationship. As perceptions of satisfaction and intimacy change, commitment to the relationship is eroded over time (Campbell 2005). Family background of the partner is also important. The individual's style of handling conflict is learned through interactions with the mother and with siblings. This persists into the romantic relationship (Reese-Weber 2005).
Predictors of break-up
- Breakup of the romance is imminent when the pattern of interaction between partners is characterised by criticism, unrealistic expectations, or withdrawal.
- The best single predictor of impending breakup is contempt. This is especially so when the female partner displays contempt (Gottman 1994).
- Substance abuse problems in any of the partners increases conflict and hostility in the relationship (Floorsheim 2008).
- Adolescents with personality disorders are more likely to have conflict in their relationships (Chen 2004).
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- Laurenceau JP, Troy AB, Carver CS. Two distinct emotional experiences in romantic relationships: effects of perceptions regarding approach of intimacy and avoidance of conflict. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2005 Aug;31(8):1123-33.
- Reese-Weber M, Kahn JH. Familial predictors of sibling and romantic-partner conflict resolution: comparing late adolescents from intact and divorced families. J Adolesc. 2005 Aug;28(4):479-93.
- Shulman S, Mayes LC, Cohen TH, Swain JE, Leckman JF. Romantic attraction and conflict negotiation among late adolescent and early adult romantic couples. J Adolesc. 2008 Dec;31(6):729-45. Epub 2008 Oct 4.
- Robin W. Simon and Anne E. Barrett. Nonmarital Romantic Relationships and Mental Health in Early Adulthood: Does the Association Differ for Women and Men? Journal of Health and Social Behavior 2010:51(2) 168–182 DOI: 10.1177/0022146510372343