Written by Madison Shidler
Adolescent and young adult relationships present interesting dynamics as young individuals grow in maturity and experience. Relationships from the teen years are often seen as doomed to end in break-ups, with young adults seen as having a better chance at finding their life partners. However, research such as Lantagne and Furman (2017) regarding the characteristics of these relationships and the impact of teenage relationships on later romances is relatively new. The current research studying the dynamics of young adults’ and adolescents’ relationships and the differences in adolescent relationships and young adult relationships is fairly consistent.
Young Adults’ and Adolescents’ Support Providers
Supportive roles from romantic partners increase in importance over the course of adolescence (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992). For middle school adolescents, friends and parents equally share in supportive roles (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992). By tenth grade, friends provide the most important supportive roles, but in college, romantic partners make an appearance as one of the three main sources of support, sharing it with friends and mothers (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992). This increase in importance of romantic partners regarding support mirrors the average length of the relationships; in the early teenage years, relationships tend to be short, gradually increasing in length into young adulthood, with longer relationships being seen as more supportive (Connolly & Johnson, 1996; Lantagne & Furman, 2017; Seiffge-Krenke, 2003).
Long- and Short-Term Relationship Comparisons
Relationship characteristics appear to be dependent on the couple’s age and the length of the relationship, with older aged individuals tending to have longer relationships (Lantagne & Furman, 2017). Despite the average length of relationships being short for young teenagers, long relationships do exist. These relationships are significantly different from their young adult counterparts; namely, they seem to be inherently more turbulent, strongly characterized by negative qualities, such as jealousy and controlling behaviors (Lantagne & Furman, 2017). Oddly, however, these same relationships tend to be more supportive than their young adult relationship counterparts (Lantagne & Furman, 2017). Conversely, short term relationships appear to follow the opposite trend in regard to age. Young adults’ short term relationships tended to be characterized by more conflict, more controlling behaviors, and less jealousy than their younger counterparts’ relationships (Lantagne & Furman, 2017). However, all types of relationships in the oldest participants in the study (approximately 25 years of age) tend to be fairly similar in regard to support, conflict, jealousy, and control issues, indicating a more consistent relationship characterization, regardless of length, with the youngest (approximately 15 years of age) having large gaps in the comparisons between short, medium, and long relationships (Latagne & Furman, 2017).
The Practice Effect of Relationships
Despite the turbulence of adolescent romances, having many of them seems to contribute to better quality relationships in young adulthood, potentially due to having more practice at conflict resolution and other important aspects of relationships (Seiffge-Krenke, 2003). The benefits of being in a relationship throughout the teenage years appear regardless of whether or not the teenager stays with the same partner or has multiple partners during this time (Seiffge-Krenke, 2003). These romantically experienced adolescents are more likely to marry or cohabit in early adulthood, indicating their better abilities to maintain stable relationships (Meier & Allen, 2009).
Overall, teenage relationships have purpose beyond making teenagers feel important or giving them status. These early relationships give them practice at being in romantic relationships, which leads to more stable and longer relationships in young adulthood (Seiffge-Krenke, 2003). These same relationships may be more chaotic and fraught with issues, but they provide support and are important transitions into young adulthood romances, which leads to better stability and quality in later romantic involvements.
Connolly, J. A., & Johnson, A. M. (1996). Adolescents’ romantic relationships and the structure and quality of their close interpersonal ties. Personal Relationships, 3(2), 185-195. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.1996.tb00111.x
Furman, W., & Buhrmester, D. (1992). Age and sex differences in perceptions of networks of personal relationships. Child Development, 63(1), 103-115. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1130905
Lantangne, A., & Furman, W. (2017). Romantic relationship development: The interplay between age and relationship length. Developmental Psychology, 53(9), 1738-1749. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000067
Meier, A., & Allen, G. (2009). Romantic relationships from adolescence to young adulthood: Evidence from the National Longtidutinal Study of Adolescent Health. The Sociological Quarterly, 50(2), 308-335. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1533-8525.2009.01142.x
Seiffge-Krenke, I. (2003). Testing theories of romantic development from adolescence to young adulthood: Evidence of a developmental sequence. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 27(6), 519-513. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01650250344000145
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Chelsea Ellithorpe
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor