Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 38, Issue 10, pp 1282–1293 | Cite as

Emotional and Behavioral Effects of Romantic Relationships in Chinese Adolescents

  • Zhiyan Chen
  • Fei Guo
  • Xiaodong Yang
  • Xinying Li
  • Qing Duan
  • Jie Zhang
  • Xiaojia GeEmail author
Empirical Research


Adolescents’ romantic relationships have been associated with higher levels of depression, although their links with externalizing behavioral problems remain unclear. The present study examined the impact of adolescent romantic relationships on depression and externalizing behaviors in a large sample of 10,509 Chinese secondary school students (ages 12–19, 54.5% female). The results showed that romantic involvement in adolescence, especially in early adolescence, was associated with more depressive symptoms and behavior problems. Breakups in romantic relationships were an important factor in producing the negative emotional and behavioral consequences. Romantically involved girls experienced higher levels of depressive symptoms, while romantically involved boys had higher levels of externalizing behaviors, compared to their non-dating peers. The results also indicated that the adverse impact was stronger for those involved in romantic relationships at younger ages.


Adolescent romantic relationships Depression Externalizing problems Gender and age differences 



This study was funded by Chinese Academy of Sciences innovation program (KX05-066). The authors would like to thank Misaki N. Natsuaki and Curtis Hsia for their helpful comments on the manuscript.


  1. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2001). Manual for the ASEBA school-age forms and profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont.Google Scholar
  2. Beyers, W., & Seiffge-Krenke, I. (2007). Are friends and romantic partners the “best medicine”? How the quality of other close relations mediates the impact of changing family relationships on adjustment. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 31, 559–568. doi: 10.1177/0165025407080583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bongers, I. L., Koot, H. M., Van der Ende, J., & Verhulst, F. C. (2003). The normative development of child and adolescent problem behavior. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 112, 179–192. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.112.2.179.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bruce, M. L., & Kim, K. M. (1992). Differences in the effects of divorce on major depression in men and women. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 914–917.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Carver, K., Joyner, K., & Udry, J. R. (2003). National estimates of adolescent romantic relationships. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications (pp. 23–56). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  6. Clark-Lempers, D. S., Lempers, J. D., & Ho, C. (1991). Early, middle, and late adolescents’ perceptions of their relationships with significant others. Journal of Adolescent Research, 6, 296–315. doi: 10.1177/074355489163003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Collins, W. A. (1997). Relationships and development during adolescence: Interpersonal adaptation to individual change. Personal Relationships, 4, 1–14. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.1997.tb00126.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Collins, W. A. (2003). More than myth: The developmental significance of romantic relationships during adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 13, 1–24. doi: 10.1111/1532-7795.1301001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Compian, L., Gowen, L., & Hayward, C. (2004). Peripubertal girls’ romantic and platonic involvement with boys: Associations with body image and depression symptoms. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14, 23–47. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2004.01401002.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Connolly, J. A., & Konarski, R. (1994). Peer self-concept in adolescence: Analysis of factor structure and of associations with peer experience. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 4, 385–403. doi: 10.1207/s15327795jra0403_3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Crick, N. R., & Zahn–Waxler, C. (2003). The development of psychopathology in females and males: Current progress and future challenges. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 719–742. doi: 10.1017/S095457940300035X.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davila, J. (2008). Depressive symptoms and adolescent romance: Theory, research, and implications. Child Development Perspectives, 2, 26–31. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-8606.2008.00037.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Davila, J., Steinberg, S., Kachadourian, L., & Fincham, F. (2004). Romantic involvement and depressive symptoms in early and late adolescence: The role of a preoccupied relational style. Personal Relationships, 11, 161–178. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2004.00076.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dion, K. K., & Dion, K. L. (1996). Cultural perspectives on romantic love. Personal Relationships, 3, 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. East, P. L. (1998). Racial and ethnic differences in girls’ sexual, marital, and birth expectations. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 150–162. doi: 10.2307/353448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity, youth and crisis. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  17. Feldman, S. S., & Gowen, L. K. (1998). Conflict negotiation tactics in romantic relationships in high school students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 27, 691–717. doi: 10.1023/A:1022857731497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Feldman, S. S., Turner, R. A., & Araujo, K. (1999). Interpersonal context as an influence on sexual timetables of youths: Gender and ethnic effects. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 9, 25–52. doi: 10.1207/s15327795jra0901_2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Furman, W. (2002). The emerging field of adolescent romantic relationships. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, 177–180. doi: 10.1111/1467-8721.00195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Furman, W., & Shaffer, L. A. (1999). A story of adolescence: The emergence of other-sex relationships. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 28, 513–522. doi: 10.1023/A:1021673125728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Haynie, D. L. (2003). Contexts of risk-explaining the link between girls’ pubertal development and their delinquency involvement. Social Forces, 82, 355–397. doi: 10.1353/sof.2003.0093.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Joyner, K., & Udry, J. R. (2000). You don’t bring me anything but down: Adolescent romance and depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 369–391. doi: 10.2307/2676292.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kuttler, A. F., La Greca, A. M., & Prinstein, M. J. (1999). Friendship qualities and social-emotional functioning of adolescents with close, cross-sex friendships. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 9, 339–366. doi: 10.1207/s15327795jra0903_5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. La Greca, A. M., & Harrison, H. M. (2005). Adolescent peer relations, friendships, and romantic relationships: Do they predict social anxiety and depression? Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34, 49–61. doi: 10.1207/s15374424jccp3401_5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Larson, R., Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Graef, R. (1980). Mood variability and the psychosocial adjustment of adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 9, 469–490. doi: 10.1007/BF02089885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Larson, R., & Richards, M. H. (1991). Daily companionship in late childhood and early adolescence: Changing developmental contexts. Child Development, 62, 284–300. doi: 10.2307/1131003.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Laursen, B. (1995). Conflict and social interaction in adolescent relationships. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 5, 55–70. doi: 10.1207/s15327795jra0501_3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Leung, P. W. L., Kwong, S. L., Tang, C. P., Ho, T. P., Hung, S. F., Lee, C. C., et al. (2006). Test-retest reliability and criterion validity of the Chinese version of CBCL, TRF, and YSR. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 47, 970–973. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2005.01570.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Masten, A. S., Coatsworth, J. D., Neemann, J., Gest, S. D., Tellegen, A., & Garmezy, N. (1995). The structure and coherence of competence from childhood through adolescence. Child Development, 66, 1635–1659. doi: 10.2307/1131901.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Monroe, S. M., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., & Lewinsohn, P. M. (1999). Life events and depression in adolescence: Relationship loss as a prospective risk factor for first onset of major depressive disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108, 606–614. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.108.4.606.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Natsuaki, M. N., Biehl, M., & Ge, X. (2009). Trajectories of depressed mood from early adolescence to young adulthood: The effects of pubertal timing and adolescent dating. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 19, 47–74. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2009.00581.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Neemann, J., Hubbard, J., & Masten, A. S. (1995). The changing importance of romantic relationship involvement to competence from late childhood to late adolescence. Development and Psychopathology, 7, 727–750. doi: 10.1017/S0954579400006817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nieder, T., & Seiffge-Krenke, I. (2001). Coping with stress in different phases of romantic development. Journal of Adolescence, 24, 297–311. doi: 10.1006/jado.2001.0407.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401. doi: 10.1177/014662167700100306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Roberts, R. E., Andrews, J. A., Lewinsohn, P. M., & Hops, H. (1990). Assessment of depression in adolescents using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Psychological Assessment, 2, 122–128. doi: 10.1037/1040-3590.2.2.122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 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, 519–531. doi: 10.1080/01650250344000145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shulman, S., & Scharf, M. (2000). Adolescent romantic behaviors and perceptions: Age- and gender-related differences, and links with family and peer relationships. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 10, 99–118. doi: 10.1207/SJRA1001_5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Simmons, R. G., Blyth, D. A., Van Cleave, E. F., & Bush, D. M. (1979). Entry into early adolescence: the impact of school structure, puberty, and early dating on self-esteem. American Sociological Review, 44, 948–967. doi: 10.2307/2094719.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Smolak, L., Levine, M. P., & Gralen, S. (1993). The impact of puberty and dating on eating problems among middle school girls. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 22, 355–368. doi: 10.1007/BF01537718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sullivan, H. S. (1953). The interpersonal theory of psychiatry. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  41. Vitaro, F., Tremblay, R. E., Kerr, M., Pagani, L., & Bukowski, W. M. (1997). Disruptiveness, friends’ characteristics, and delinquency in early adolescence: A test of two competing models of development. Child Development, 68, 676–689. doi: 10.2307/1132118.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wu, D. Y. H. (1996). Chinese childhood socialization. In M. H. Bond (Ed.), The handbook of Chinese psychology (pp. 143–154). Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Yang, H. J., Soong, W. T., Kuo, P. H., Chang, H. L., & Chen, W. J. (2004). Using the CES-D in a two-phase survey for depressive disorders among nonreferred adolescents in Taipei: A stratum-specific likelihood ratio analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 82, 419–430.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Zani, B. (1995). Dating and interpersonal relationships in adolescence. In S. Jackson & H. J. Rodríguez-Tomé (Eds.), Adolescence and its social worlds (pp. 95–119). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  45. Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J. (2002). The development of romantic relationships and adaptations in the system of peer relationships. The Journal of Adolescent Health, 31(6S), 216–225. doi: 10.1016/S1054-139X(02)00504-9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., Siebenbruner, J., & Collins, W. A. (2001). Diverse aspects of dating: associations with psychosocial functioning from early to middle adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 24, 313–336. doi: 10.1006/jado.2001.0410.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhiyan Chen
    • 1
  • Fei Guo
    • 1
  • Xiaodong Yang
    • 1
  • Xinying Li
    • 1
  • Qing Duan
    • 1
  • Jie Zhang
    • 1
  • Xiaojia Ge
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of PsychologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Child DevelopmentUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

Personalised recommendations