Sarah Richins and Dr. Thomas B Holman, Marriage, Family and Human Development
Family of origin influences on children are witnessed everywhere in society as values, beliefs, and culture perpetuate from one generation to the next through the family unit. A common phrase heard, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” demonstrates the folk wisdom that people in general are shaped by their parents, a subfactor of the family. Recognizing the importance of even the parent-child relationship makes investigation of its influence on future marital relationships significant.
Research has shown that experiences in the family of origin are directly and indirectly related with later marital quality. Family structure, parents’ marital quality, and parent-child relationships can all be linked with adult children’s marital quality. Understanding these factors is vital in identifying predictions of overall marital success. In addition, it has been anticipated that if adult children “come to terms” with negative experiences from their at risk family of origin, they would experience higher levels of marital quality in their romantic relationships.
With this study, the RELATionship Evaluation Questionnaire (RELATE), a 271 item standardized assessment of family background and experience was used under the guidance of Dr. Holman. Two study groups were compared. Individuals from at risk families of origin who came to terms with their negative family experience were compared to those who were from at risk families of origin and did not come to terms with their negative family experience. Three variables were used in comparing the two study groups: romantic relationship satisfaction, stability, and empathetic communication. Those from “at risk families” would be defined as persons who answered “strongly disagree,” or “disagree,” they experienced family relationships that were considered safe, secure, rewarding, worth being in, or a source of comfort; individuals who had a loving atmosphere in the home; individuals who considered their childhood years to be happy; or answered “agree,” or “strongly agree,” they experienced family relationships that were confusing, unfair, anxiety-provoking, inconsistent, and unpredictable. Those who “came to terms” responded “strongly disagree,” or “disagree,” having trouble dealing with family experiences; felt their experience negatively affected their ability to form close relationships; or responded “agree,” or “strongly agree,” they felt peace about anything negative that happened with the family in childhood years. Altogether 292 males, average age of 21.85 years old and 295 females, average 20.98 years old were assessed for this study.
In evaluation of the three variables of romantic relationship satisfaction, stability, and empathetic communication between the two study groups, scores were considered significant when observed at .05 or less. This means that if the study were to be done again, 95% of the results would be consistent with the original results, while 5% of the results would be inconsistent due to error. Overall, male romantic relationship satisfaction and stability of those from at risk families of origin who did not come to terms with their negative family experience were significantly lower than those who did come to terms with their experience with significant levels of .05 for both variables. However, empathetic communication proved not to be significantly different between the two study groups with a significant level of .20.
For females, those coming from at risk families of origin who did not come to terms with their negative family experience had significantly lower romantic relationship satisfaction, stability and empathetic communication with scores of .01,.05 and .01. Thus this study would suggest that individuals from at risk families of origin who did not come to terms with their negative family experience might experience overall lower success in their romantic relationship and marriage.
While this much has been studied, further research is needed in what occurs for individuals who come from functional families of origin, who experience romantic relationship satisfaction, stability and empathetic communication and those who come from the same background, but still experience lower levels of romantic relationship satisfaction, stability and empathetic communication. Further research in how one comes to terms with family of origin influence is necessary as well.