Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 39, Issue 9, pp 703-710

Young adults’ recollections of parental bonds

Does satisfaction with partner relationships mediate the longitudinal association with mental disorders?
  • Geertjan OverbeekAffiliated withInstitute of Family & Child Care Studies, Nijmegen University Email author 
  • , Wilma VolleberghAffiliated withDept. of Clinical Epidemiology, Trimbos Institute
  • , Wim MeeusAffiliated withDept. of Child & Adolescent Studies, Utrecht University
  • , Ron de GraafAffiliated withDept. of Clinical Epidemiology, Trimbos Institute
  • , Rutger C. M. E. EngelsAffiliated withInstitute of Family & Child Care Studies, Nijmegen University

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Recollections of cold and overprotective behaviors from parents have been hypothesized to lead to the presence of mental disorders in young adulthood through their detrimental effects on individuals’ satisfaction in later partner relationships. Previous studies have not explicitly tested, however, whether partner relationship satisfaction mediates the longitudinal relationship from parental bonds to DSMIII-R disorders in young adults.


We examined: (1) whether recollections of parental bonds in the first 16 years of life were related to the prevalence of DSMIII-R mental disorders in young adulthood, and (2) whether young adults’ satisfaction with current partner relationships mediated these links. Data were used from 1,581 Dutch young adults aged 18–34 years, who were interviewed in three waves (1996, 1997, and 1999) of a nationwide epidemiological study


Structural Equation Models demonstrated that recollections of caring, non-intrusive parenting behaviors were significantly, negatively associated with the prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders (but not substance disorders) in young adulthood. The satisfaction with current partner relationships did not mediate these negative associations.


Results replicate and extend earlier findings from the National Comorbidity Survey (Enns et al. 2002), demonstrating that mental disorders are directly related to people’s recollections of parental care and overprotection. Low-quality parental bonds were only related to internalizing types of psychopathology, however, and were of a modest strength. Results may indicate that there is relatively little cross-relationship continuity in the experience of intimacy between relationships with parents and with partners.

Key words

young adulthood parental bonds partner relationships prevalence DSM-III-R mental disorders