Longitudinal Examination of Depression and Negative Feedback ...
Effects of Adverse Life Events in Childhood on Internal
Feelings about Romantic Relationships in Adulthood
Samantha R. Rohrbacher & David E. Szwedo
James Madison University
There is a significant connection between negative childhood
events and long-term mental health problems (Anda, Edwards, Felitti, & Holden,
Children who experience adverse life events (i.e., childhood
emotional abuse) are shown to be six times more likely to be
involved in complications during romantic relationships in
adulthood (McCarthy & Taylor, 1999).
If people alter their perception of their satisfaction level in a
relationship, their levels of commitment to the relationship
changes. This suggests that the perception and internal feelings
people have about their relationship are significant factors in
relationship outcome (Barnes, Brown, Campbell, Krusemark, & Rogge, 2007).
Adolescents are more prone to be emotionally expressive when a
supportive reaction is anticipated; parents are the providers of
important and meaningful sources of information about the world
emotionally, and set the stage for the level of emotional
expression of their children (Cassano, Perry-Parrish, Stegall, & Zeman, 2006).
Those who report a significantly higher level of emotional abuse
in childhood are more likely to have lower levels of self-esteem as
they become older (Anderson, Herbison, Martin, Mullen, & Romans, 1995).
This study was conducted to find the effects of adverse events
early in life to romantic relationships in adulthood, and how these
effects may also be moderated by feelings of self-worth and level
of emotional expressivity
Children who have reported more adverse events will also report
greater internal conflict within their romantic relationships in
The associations between adverse events and internal conflict in
adult relationships will be moderated by greater difficulty in
emotional expressivity and greater implicit feelings of lower selfesteem/worth in adolescence
Adverse Childhood Experiences (Birth-age 18) Assessed the participants childhood life
experiences. The participants completed the Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire at
age 27; they responded based on the experiences from birth to age 18.
Implicit Attitudes About Self (age 18) The measure tested for levels of self-worth by comparing
the response times of participants when presented with words that explain associations with
their self as worthless versus valuable. The longer the response time, the more incompatible
the two stimuli are to one another to the responding participant.
Berkeley Expressivity Questionnaire (age 21) Questionnaire that assesses the facets of
emotional expressivity (i.e., negative, positive, and overall expressivity) on a strongly
disagree to strongly agree scale. This study specifically used the overall expressivity scale.
Network of Relationships Inventory (age 27) Participants and their romantic partners
completed a survey including a variety of scales that reflect the participants and the romantic
partners feelings about and for the relationship. This study specifically used the instrumental
aid, companionship, affection, admiration, satisfaction, intimacy, and support scale.
Figures 1. & 2. Interactions between levels of adverse events and levels of emotional
expressivity and their predictions to level of teens report of relationship satisfaction and
the romantic partners report of anxiety about relationship.
Correlations between primary variables are presented in Table 1 below.
Regression equations examined adverse events and either level of self-worth or
emotional expressivity as predictors of youths later internal feelings about
romantic relationships. This included satisfaction, affection, antagonism, anxiety,
Interactions revealed that for individuals with higher cases of adverse events in
childhood who also reported low emotional expressivity at age 21 predicted that
the teen will report lower relationship satisfaction in adulthood (see Figure 1).
Interactions revealed that individuals with higher cases of adverse events in
childhood who also reported low emotional expressivity at age 21 predicted that
the romantic partner will report increased levels of anxiety about the relationship in
adulthood (see Figure 2).
Interactions were found between adverse events and levels of self-worth predicting
the romantic partners report of possessiveness; high self-worth and lower cases
of adverse events predict the partners increased possessiveness level (see Figure 3).
Interactions were also found between adverse events and levels of self-worth
predicting the teens report of affection; low self-worth and higher cases of
adverse events predicted lower levels of affection in romantic relationships (see
Table 1 Univariate statistics and inter-correlations between primary constructs
3. Adverse Experiences
5. Emotional Expressivity
7. Affection in Relationship
8. Antagonism in
9. Partners Report of
10. Partners Self-Report of
N = 184
Number with Romantic Partner = 97
53 African American
Relationship Experiences Questionnaire (age 27) Participants and their romantic partners are
given words in which they rate each other on giving and getting scales (i.e.,
Figures 3. & 4. Interactions between levels of adverse events and levels of self-worth and
their predictions to outcome of teens report of affection toward romantic partner and
the romantic partners report of possessiveness in the relationship.
Teens who experienced higher numbers of adverse events in their childhood tend to
have increased difficulties and troubles about their internal feelings in romantic
relationships in adulthood.
For individuals who reported numbers of adverse life events (ALE) from birth to age 18
Higher levels of emotional expressivity predict high satisfaction in romantic
relationships. Lower levels of emotional expressivity predict less satisfaction in romantic
Lower levels of emotional expressivity act as a moderator to decrease levels of
satisfaction. This may be because individuals have the chance to reflect on their
experiences rather than bottling them up inside.
Low emotional expressivity predicts the individuals partners increased anxiety.
Both levels of ALE and the individuals level of emotional expressivity predicted diverse
levels of anxiety, which may be explained by the partners possible lack of trust and
belief in the partners feelings if they are not sharing their emotions.
Low self-worth predicted high possessiveness from the romantic partner.
As the levels of self-worth varied with the number of ALE for the participant, the level of
possessiveness from the the partner also varied. This could be explain because the
partner may be more protective over the participant if they have experienced negative
events and have a low feeling of self-worth.
Low self-worth predicted low levels of satisfaction in the relationship. This could be
explained because the participant may have never felt they were good enough, so they
do not show emotion because they may not feel as if they deserve it.
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