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influence of childhood on adult relationships

Expectations of later relationships can be a continuation of early attachment styles, as the behaviour of the infant's primary attachment figure promotes an internal working model of relationships which leads the infant to expect the same in later relationships. Expectations of sexuality are also learned in relation to early attachment; for example individuals who had an avoidant attachment are more likely to seek sex without love.

In some cases, a child's internal working model can lead them to develop an attachment disorder. These individuals experienced abuse or neglect in childhood, and as a result they resist or reject intimacy in adult relationships. Their adult relationships may also involve a lack of responsiveness or excessive over-familiarity.

Early relationships with peers can also influence later adult relationships. Close friendships in childhood are often categorised by affection, a sense of alliance & intimacy, and the sharing of personal information. The experience of having friends to confide in promotes feelings of trust, acceptance and a sense of being understood - characteristics that are also important in later adult relationships.

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influence of childhood on adult relationships

In later childhood, particularly adolescence, attachment usually shifts from parents to peers. With this shift, adolescents can redirect interpersonal energy towards romantic partners. These early romantic relationships allow adolescents to gain experience with a new kind of emotional & physical intimacy. However, Madsen found that adolescents with heavy dating frequency generally had poorer quality young adult relationships, showing that too much dating in adolescents can be maladaptive.

Research has supported the link between early attachment style and success in later relationships. Fraley conducted a meta-analysis of studies found correlations from 0.1 to 0.5 between attachment type and later relationships, demonstrating a fairly strong link. The links between some attachment types (e.g. insecure-anxious) and adult relationships were less clear than they were with other attachment types, suggesting that some attachment types are more unstable over time.

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influence of childhood on adult relationships

However, it could be that an individual's attachment type is determined by their current relationship as well as their attachment in childhood; this may be why happily married individuals are secure. Attachment theory does suggest that significant relationship experiences can alter attachment organisation. This idea is supported by the finding that relationship break-ups are often associated with a shift from secure to insecure attachment.

In a longitudinal study by Simpson et al., participants were studied at four key points: infancy, early childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Their attachment types and romantic relationships were assessed at some of these different stages to attempt to identify a relationship between them. The findings supported the claim that expression of emotions in adult romantic relationships can be traced back to a person's early attachment experiences. Securely attached children were more expressive and emotionally attached in later romantic relationships.

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influence of childhood on adult relationships

Research such as the aforementioned study may appear to indicate that early experiences have a very fixed effect on later adult relationships. However, there were many exceptions in which participants had positive adult relationships despite being insecurely attached. Experiences throughout an individual's life, as well as genetic factors, can also affect the functioning of adult relationships.

The Temperament hypothesis is an alternative explanation that sees the quality of adult relationships as being determined biologically by innate personality factors. This hypothesis suggests that attachment styles are irrelevant to adult relationships and thus that attempts to develop better-quality relationships by changing people's attachment styles to more positive ones will not work.

Although dating in adolescence can improve the quality of adult relationships, romantic experience in early to middle adolescence has been associated with negative outcomes in later adult relationships. This suggests that the timing of romantic relationships in adolescence determines what influence, if any, they will have.

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influence of childhood on adult relationships

A methodological problem with many studies of adolescent romantic relationships is that they often involve highly selective sample of adolescents from one school or city, usually in the US. This means that the studies do not adequately represent the experience of adolescents in other areas or cultures. These studies lack external validity, making it difficult to generalise the findings to people outside of the sample of participants.

Much research into this topic does not take into account important gender differences. For example, male and female peer groups have different influences on adult relationships. Girls' and boys' peer groups emphasise different styles of expressing emotions, affecting the amount of opportunity for learning skills important for adult relationships. Girls' peer groups have also been found to generally more influential than boys' peer groups.

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