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JULEFF, L. M. (2003). A Study of Romantic Relationships . National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 6. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 28, 2023 .

A Study of Romantic Relationships

Sponsored by: ELIZABETH HAMMER (eyhammer@loyno.edu)
Our focus was on the connections between relationship satisfaction, attachment style, and optimism in future relationships. We hypothesized that people who were raised by positive relationship models would have higher relationship satisfaction, be securely attached, and be more optimistic regarding future relationships. This hypothesis was not supported. The difference in the mean positivity of the relationship model was, however, marginally significant between attachment styles. When all participants were included, rather than those who were raised by positive models, the difference became significant and securely attached persons had a more positive example than avoidant individuals. Fortunately, we unexpectedly found a couple of interesting things regarding relationship models. Although our hypothesis was not supported, further research is encouraged to develop increase what is known about relationship models.

A human being’s capacity to interact romantically with others develops because of a wide range of influences and innumerable factors. Several seemingly important ones may include the custody arrangement of a child and his or her relationship to their primary caregiver(s). It seems likely that, in the United States, one or both parents are the primary caregivers of the majority of children. If this is the case, the presence of divorce and the level of conflict within intact marriages may play considerable roles in the development of children’s views on future relationships. It seems likely that if their parents raised them, then their parents would have been their primary example of a relationship (relationship model), whether positive or negative. Others may look to alternate relationships as their model, perhaps related to their upbringing. Though only personal conjecture, it seems that most individuals are raised by one or both of their parents. It is important to look at the relationship between parents (i.e. whether they stayed married or not) as well as the relationship between the child and the parents (i.e. attachment style, relationship modeling). Divorce is one of the primary issues affecting families in the United States. Unfortunately, the majority of marriages today end in divorce, making it a pressing issue when discussing parental relationships. The divorce rate rose nearly 200% between the 1960s and the 1980s (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998). This sharp increase leveled off in the 1990s, but high divorce rates continue and present very serious social problems (Segrin & Nabi, 2002). A wealth of research regarding the effects of divorce has been done (e.g., Amato, 2000; Jacquet & Surra, 2001; Richardson and McCabe, 2001). Unfortunately, adults, children and adolescents, rather than college-age students, have most often been the focus. Lee (2002) found that the well being of children after experiencing the divorce of their parents is “a highly complex, interactive process that is influenced by a multitude of factors.” By no means is it easy or even feasible to pinpoint all of the effects a divorce has on a child and then on his or her future relationships. Jacuet and Surra (2001) began to address these lingering effects—they found that young adults from divorced families are less able to trust their romantic partners, prosper in passionate (rather than friend-based) love relationships, and are less able to develop and maintain friendships. The 232 couples studied also showed lower levels of commitment to their partners if they were from a divorced family. Another study by Richardson and McCabe (2001) found that those from divorced families, in contrast with their non-divorce counterparts, were more likely to experience relationship difficulties and lower levels of intimacy with peers and parents. Amidst all the pessimism, they also found that the effects of divorce are not necessarily negative. Another factor that must be discussed alongside parental relationships is the child’s attachment to the parents. According to the research of Hazan and Shaver (1987) there are three styles of attachment: secure, avoidant, and anxious/ambivalent. A person has a secure attachment style when he or she finds it easy to become intimate with others and is not forced to rely heavily on their partners. Avoidant attachment is characterized by actively eluding close relationships. The anxious/ambivalent attachment style can be characterized by obsession and greater interest in the relationship than the partner. Optimistically, early secure attachment of a child to a parent has been shown to be more influential than the lasting effects of divorce (Hazelton, Lancee, & O’Neil, 1998). This is relevant to future relationships since Furman, Simon, Shaffer, and Bouchey (2002) found that “self-reports of adult romantic attachment style are related to retrospective reports of parent-child relationships.” So a person’s current self-reported attachment style can be studied to find out how they were attached to their parents (or primary care-givers). In this study, we attempted to find a relationship between a person’s upbringing (who were their primary caregivers), their relationship model, their current relationship status and satisfaction in that or their most recent relationship, their attachment style, and their outlook toward future relationships. A person’s primary caregivers were defined as the person or persons with whom the subject lived for the majority of their childhood through age 18. In our survey, we divided up childhood into three six-year segments, so the majority in this case would be 12 out of 18 years. Relationship satisfaction was defined as the average score on an adapted version of Schmitt’s (2002) relationship satisfaction scale. The higher the score on a five-point scale, the more satisfied the person is in the relationship. Attachment style was defined by using Hazan and Shaver’s (1987) Attachment Scale. There were three sections, one for each of the attachment styles they selected (secure, avoidant, or anxious/ambivalent). The average score for each section was calculated and the section with the highest score determined the person’s attachment style. The subject’s outlook toward future relationships was measured by their future-time orientation, which is defined as “the ability to foresee and anticipate, to make plans and organize future possibilities” (Gjesme, 1983). In a study by Oner (2001), it was found that people with a high future time orientation in romantic relationships are inclined to keep up their relationships. This seems to indicate a more optimistic view of relationships since it seems that most people would not devote time and energy to a relationship that they think is destined to fail. In addition, by studying attachment style and integrating with it the changing climate of childrearing, we hope to broaden the area of research on childhood experiences and college-age relationships. Our study will not only connect many areas of research, it will be focused on college students who are often neglected in studies regarding the effects of divorce. In light of previous research, we hypothesize that if people were raised by those whom they designate as their relationship model and it was a positive example for them, then they will have a more secure attachment style, higher levels of relationship satisfaction, and a more optimistic outlook on future relationships.


The sample consisted of 101 undergraduate students, both males and females, from Loyola University. Since participation in several studies is required for many psychology students, the primary motivation for participating in this study was course credit. The remainder of the participants were acquaintances of the researchers who participated voluntarily. We recruited possible subjects by posting a sign-up sheet in the psychology department, as well as by word of mouth.

Participants took a 43-item survey with a pen or pencil. Included in the survey were measures of relationship satisfaction (9 questions), attachment style (13 questions), and future outlook on relationships (11 questions). The remaining questions included inquiries into the marital status of the participants’ parents, who the participants’ primary caregivers were during their youth, and whom they think their relationship model was. Prior to completing the survey, participants were asked to read and sign an informed consent form. The researchers compiled the first section of general information. Section one of the survey can be found in the Appendix. We asked for their age, sex, racial background, and sexual orientation (i.e. heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual). The next question asked them who their primary caregivers were from ages 0-6 years, 6-12 years, and 12-18 years. The seven possible responses were as follows: a) Both parents, married (biological or adoptive); b) Both parents, separated/divorced; c) Biological mother and stepfather; d) Biological father and stepmother; e) Biological mother only; f) Biological father only; and g) Other (please specify). The following question asked the participants to reflect back on what romantic relationship they feel most influenced their current view of romantic relationships. The possible choices were as follows: a) Parents (biological, adoptive, foster family, etc.); b) Grandparents; c) Aunt and Uncle; d) Friend/friend of family; e) Fictional relationship (seen on TV, in movies, etc.); f) Other (Please specify). After that the participant was asked to rate the quality of the example on a Likert-type scale from (1) Very Negative to (5) Very Positive. The survey continued by asking for current relationship status, if they have ever been married or have children, and the length of their current or most recent romantic relationship (if they were not currently in one). Thee second section was adapted from Schmitt’s (2002) relationship satisfaction scale. It consisted of nine items. In the original survey, the first five items were yes or no questions. In order to have consistency within the survey, we adapted those five into statements rated from (1) Strongly Disagree to (5) Strongly Agree. The other four were questions rated (1) Extremely Unsatisfied to (5) Extremely Satisfied. A sample of a statement from the first five (concerning agreement) is “The thought of ending my relationship has crossed my mind in the past three months.” A typical question from the last four in this section is “How do you feel about your partner as a source of encouragement and reassurance?” This section was used to determine relationship satisfaction in a subject’s current or most recent romantic relationship. Section three of the survey used Hazan and Shaver’s (1987) Attachment Scale to find out the attachment style of the participants. It included thirteen statements, all of which utilized a Likert-type scale ranging from (1) Strongly Disagree to (5) Strongly Agree. Sample statements from this section include “I’m somewhat uncomfortable being too close to others” and “I often worry my partner(s) don’t really love me.” This section was used to determine the participant’s attachment style in order to relate that to other areas covered by this survey. The fourth and final section of the survey used Oner’s (2000) Future Time Orientation in Romantic Relationships Scale. Participants rated the eleven statements on a Likert-type scale ranging from (1) Strongly Disagree to (5) Strongly Agree. Several sample statements from this portion of the survey include “I prefer not to start a romantic relationship if I believe that it will be temporary” and “For the sake of my future, I cannot make any sacrifices in my present relationship.” This measure evaluated the participants’ overall outlook on future romantic relationships.

This was a correlational study that explored the connection between the relationship models designated by the participants and their current relationship satisfaction, attachment styles, and attitudes toward future romantic relationships. The main focus of our study was the relationship model of the participant and whether or not those who constituted the model were the primary caregivers of the participant. Whether the relationship model was positive or negative was also relevant and important. There were no controls for extraneous variables in this study. The subjects were introduced to the researchers, asked to read and fill out an informed consent form, and then given a copy of the form for their records. Following this, the surveys were passed out and the researchers gave instructions on how to complete the survey. The subjects then took 10-20 minutes to complete the survey, which they returned to the researchers upon completion. Following this, the subjects were debriefed. Since there was no deception involved in the study, we simply told them that we were looking for a link between upbringing, relationships models, relationship satisfaction, attachment style, and outlook on future romantic relationships. We also offered the contact information for the Loyola Counseling Services, in case the participants felt they needed someone to talk to about how they felt after participating in the study.


The 101 individuals who participated in our study seemed to be relatively homogeneous. 62.4% were female, 79.2% were Caucasian, and 91% were heterosexual. The average age of our participants was 19.34 years. Most participants (61.4%) selected their parents as their relationship model, and the mean positivity of the model was slightly above Neutral (3.49, SD = 1.31) on a five-point scale where five was Very Positive. Sixty-one point four percent of participants were also raised by their relationship model. In our survey, childhood was divided into three sections: 0-6 years, 6-12 years, and 12-18 years. When a participant made the same selection (e.g. both parents) for two of those three sections, they were coded as having been “raised by” the people they selected. The average length of our subjects’ current or most recent relationship was just over one year (1.1, SD = 1.146). Relationship satisfaction among our participants was between Neutral and Satisfied (3.618, SD = .833) on a five-point scale where five was Very Satisfied. Fifty-seven percent of our participants were classified as being securely attached, 30% had an avoidant attachment style, and the remaining 13% were coded as anxious/ambivalent. The participants’ optimism in relationships was defined by their mean score on Oner’s (2001) Future Time Orientation in Romantic Relationships scale. The mean score was slightly above neutral (3.266, SD = .611) where five would be a very optimistic outlook.

Our hypothesis was not supported by our findings. Within the subjects who were raised by their relationship model, there was no correlation between the positivity of the example and relationship satisfaction, r(56) = -.003, ns. There was also no correlation between the positivity of the example and the participants’ optimism regarding future relationships, r(62)= .062, ns. However, our final analysis of variance for this group did produce marginally significant results. The difference between attachment styles in terms of the positivity of the example approached significance, F(2,60) = 2.966, p < .06 (see Table 1). Those who were securely attached had a more positive relationship model than those who had the avoidant or anxious/ambivalent attachment styles. The aforementioned statistical analyses were then performed using all subjects. The two correlations still yielded non-significant results, but the third marginally significant finding became more pronounced. When the previous analysis of variance was performed using all subjects, there was a significant difference between attachment styles and the mean positivity of their relationship models, F(2,98) = 3.689, p < .05 (see Table 2). Although the difference between Avoidant and Anxious/Ambivalent attachment styles is larger, the small n of Anxious/Ambivalent resulted in the difference being non-significant in a post-hoc comparison using Tukey’s HSD. Although our hypothesis was not supported, we did find two interesting results. We ran an independent samples t-test and found that people with a fictional relationship model were less satisfied in their romantic relationships than those who selected their parents as their relationship model, t(74) = 2.621, p < .05. In another independent samples t-test we found that participants who were not raised by the same people from 0-18 years of age have a significantly less positive example for their relationship model, t(98) = -3.157, p < .01.

This study merged many areas of research that, to our knowledge, were not previously studied in concert. We were not striving to support or refute previous findings, but rather to further the study in the area of relationship models. Our hypothesis, based on an amalgamation of previous research, was not supported. To our surprise, there was no significant association between relationship satisfaction, attachment style, and optimism about future relationships for those who were raised by positive relationship models. Previous studies led us to a logical hypothesis that included all of the areas we studied. Because of our homogenous and limited sample, our study was not wholly congruent with that logic. The lack of support for our hypothesis may have been in part due to our insufficient subject pool. All subjects were from Loyola University, which is a predominately white, female Jesuit university. The divorce rate of our subjects’ parents was not as high as it is in the general population (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998), so we were not able to focus on parental divorce as much as we would have liked. The ages of our subjects ranged from 18-22 because of the university setting, which most likely influenced our results. As people gain more experience in relationships and life experience in general, their relationship satisfaction may change. They may also develop and have more secure attachment styles as they find out what works and what does not work in relationships. As age increases, outlook and optimism regarding future relationships may change because of the experiences a person has. Further studies should use a more representative sample in order to obtain the most accurate results possible. Although our hypothesis was not supported, our unexpected findings regarding fictional relationship models as opposed to parental relationship models may lead future studies in a different direction. Little research has been done on relationship models, but Segrin and Nabi (2002) found that people who watch more relationship genre TV (and thus may have fictional relationship models) have more idealized expectations about relationships. This idealization may lead to less actual satisfaction, which was supported by our findings. The influence of media on relationship idealism should be further explored by focusing on relationship models instead of just general media exposure. We also found that participants who were raised by different people during their childhood had a less positive relationship model than those who were raised by the same people. When individuals are raised by two parents and then shift to being raised by one, it may be the result of divorce or death. Divorce may lower a person’s opinion of relationships in general, since it has been shown that parental divorce does negatively impact a person’s ability to carry on healthy relationships (Richardson & McCabe, 2001). An inconsistent environment during childhood may have a negative influence on a person’s life in many areas. This finding should be used as a springboard for further research into childrearing practices and other childhood issues. As a whole, our study was very limited in scope and cannot be easily generalized to the whole population. Due to the limitations of this particular study, we suggest that further research be done on relationship models to explore this relatively new field. Although relationships, attachment style, and optimism seem to come about because of a wide variety of factors, we believe that relationship models may prove to play an important role if further research is conducted. With such a high divorce rate in the United States, individuals may turn increasingly to the media for their relationship models. As was shown in our study, these fictional models may be linked with lower levels of relationship satisfaction. This idealization and lower satisfaction may prove detrimental to relationships and thus may further increase the already high divorce rate. While only one of the many factors, relationship models may play into the divorce rate. By exploring this field, researchers may help decrease the prevalence of divorce and solve a major social problem.

Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1269-1288.

Furman, W., Simon, V. A., Shaffer, L., & Bouchey, H. A. (2002). Adolescents’ working models and styles for relationships with parents, friends, and romantic partners. Child Development, 73, 241-255.

Gjesme, T. (1983). On the concept of future time orientation: considerations of some functions’ and measurements’ implications. International Journal of Psychology, 18, 443-461.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511-524.

Hazelton, R., Lancee, W., & O’Neil, M. K. (1998). The controversial long-term effects of parental divorce: the role of early attachment. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 29, 1-12.

Jacquet, S. E., & Surra, C. A. (2001). Parental divorce and premarital couples: commitment and other relationship characteristics. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63, 627-638.

Lee, M. Y. (2002). A model of children’s post divorce behavioral adjustment in maternal- and dual-residence arrangements. Journal of Family Issues, 23, 672-697.

Oner, B. (2000). Relationship satisfaction and dating experience: factors affecting future time orientation in relationships with the opposite sex. Journal of Psychology, 134, 527-536.

Oner, B. (2001). Factors predicting future time orientation for romantic relationships with the opposite sex. Journal of Psychology, 135, 430-439.

Richardson, S., & McCabe, M. P. (2001). Parental divorce during adolescence and adjustment in early adulthood. Adolescence, 36, 467-489.

Schmitt, D. P. (2002). Personality, attachment and sexuality related to dating relationship outcomes: contrasting three perspectives on personal attribute interaction. British Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 589-602.

Segrin, C., & Nabi, R. L. (2002). Does television viewing cultivate unrealistic expectations about marriage? Journal of Communication, 52, 247-263.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1998). National vital statistics reports. Births, marriages, divorces, and deaths: provisional data for January 1998 (DHHS Publication No. (PHS) 98-1120 8-0763). Hyattsville, MD: Author.

Below is the first section of the survey as administered to the participants. Section one was designed by the researchers in order to obtain the participants’ living situation through 18 years of age, their relationship model, whether the model was positive or negative, and the participants’ current relationship status. Section One

1. Age: ____ years2. Sex (circle one): Male Female3. Racial Background (choose one):Caucasian/White African American/BlackAsian/Pacific Islander Hispanic Other (please specify) __________4. Sexual orientation (choose one): Heterosexual Bisexual Homosexual 5. Who did you primarily live with in the following age ranges? Please select ONE choice for each age range.0-6 years a) Both parents, married (biological or adoptive) b) Both parents, separated/divorced c) Biological mother and stepfather d) Biological father and stepmother e) Biological mother only f) Biological father only g) Other (please specify) ___________________ 6-12 years a) Both parents, married (biological or adoptive) b) Both parents, separated/divorced c) Biological mother and stepfather d) Biological father and stepmother e) Biological mother only f) Biological father only g) Other (please specify) ___________________12-18 years a) Both parents, married (biological or adoptive) b) Both parents, separated/divorced c) Biological mother and stepfather d) Biological father and stepmother e) Biological mother only f) Biological father only g) Other (please specify) ___________________

6. When you look back on your childhood, what romantic relationship (not your own) do you feel was most influential on you in developing how you view romantic relationships? a) Parents (biological, stepfamily, foster family, etc.)b) Grandparentsc) Aunt and Uncled) Friend/friend of familye) Fictional relationship (seen on TV, in movies, etc.)f) Other (please specify) ____________________________ 7. Was it a positive or negative example? (Choose from the scale below)Positive- “I’d like to have a relationship like that one.”Negative- “I would not like to have a relationship like that one.” (1) Very Negative (2) Negative (3) Neutral (4) Positive (5) Very Positive8. What is your current relationship status?a) Singleb) Dating someonec) Engagedd) Living with romantic partnere) Marriedf) Other (please specify) ________________9. If you are not currently married, have you ever been married? Yes NoIf yes, for how long were you married? ____ years ____ months10. Do you have any children? Yes No11. Thinking about your current or most recent long-term dating or marriage relationship, how long were you/have you been together with your partner? ____ years ____ months


 Mean positivity of relationship model according to attachment style for those raised by relationship model 										 						MeanAttachment Style			Positivity of Example		Standard Deviation	Secure	(n = 39)				3.79				1.24Avoidant (n = 17)				2.88				1.58Anxious/Ambivalent (n = 5)			3.20				 .84		


 Mean positivity of relationship model according to attachment style for all subjects							Mean	Attachment Style			Positivity of Example		Standard Deviation	Secure	(n = 56)				3.71				1.28	Avoidant (n = 30)				2.97				1.43Anxious/Ambivalent (n = 13)			3.77				 .83		

Submitted 12/9/2003 8:52:53 PM
Last Edited 12/9/2003 9:30:20 PM
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