Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 47, Issue 7, pp 1499–1516 | Cite as

A Developmental Perspective on Young Adult Romantic Relationships: Examining Family and Individual Factors in Adolescence

  • Mengya XiaEmail author
  • Gregory M. Fosco
  • Melissa A. Lippold
  • Mark E. Feinberg
Empirical Research


The ability to develop and maintain healthy romantic relationships is a key developmental task in young adulthood. The present study investigated how adolescent interpersonal skills (assertiveness, positive engagement) and family processes (family climate, parenting practices) influence the development of young adult romantic relationship functioning. We evaluated cross-lag structural equation models with a sample of 974 early adolescents living in rural and semi-rural communities in Pennsylvania and Iowa, starting in sixth grade (mean age = 12.4, 62.1% female) and followed into young adulthood (mean age = 19.5). Findings revealed that adolescents who had experienced a more positive family climate and more competent parenting reported more effective problem-solving skills and less violent behavior in their young adult romantic relationships. Adolescent assertiveness was consistently positively associated with relationship problem-solving skills, and adolescents’ positive engagement with their family was associated with feeling more love in young adult romantic relationships. In addition, family functioning and adolescent interpersonal skills exhibited some reciprocal relations over the adolescent years. In summary, family processes and interpersonal skills are mutually influenced by each other across adolescence, and both have unique predictive implications to specific facets of young adult romantic relationship functioning.


Family climate Parenting practice Assertiveness Ositive engagement Romantic relationship functioning 



This project was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA R01 013709) and (T32DA017629), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD R01 092439), and the Karl R. and Diane Wendle Fink Early Career Professorship for the Study of Families (GMF). We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the participating youth and families, and the PROSPER staff, to the success of this project.

Authors’ Contributions

M.X. conceived of the study, performed the statistical analysis, interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript; G.M.F. helped to conceive of the study and interpret the data, participated in the coordination of the study, and assisted in writing the manuscript; M.A.L. assisted in writing the manuscript; M.E.F. designed the original data collection, supervised data collection, and provided feedback on manuscript drafts. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This study was funded by National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA R01 013709 and T32DA017629) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD R01 092439).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The study procedures were approved by PSU Institutional Review Board # PRAMS00038100.

Informed Consent

All youths and families were informed about and consented to participate in this project.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Human Development and Family StudiesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  2. 2.School of Social WorkUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Prevention Research CenterThe Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA

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