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22 May 2006
Study Finds Quality of Romantic Relationships Affected by Family-of-Origin Health


The health of people’s families-of-origin has an effect on their levels of relationship satisfaction as adults. 


That’s the major conclusion of a study recently completed by Dr. Tom Phillips, an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Jacksonville State University. “The family-of-origin is the family into which you were born and grew up, and this study really reaffirms what other researchers have found and that is that people who report having grown up in families that functioned well generally report being more satisfied in their adult romantic relationships than people who report having grown up in families that didn’t function as well,” says Dr. Phillips.  


The study, which explored the relationship between university students’ families-of-origin, dysfunctional relationship beliefs, and levels of reported satisfaction in current romantic relationships, also revealed that family-of-origin health is related to the number of dysfunctional beliefs held by individuals regarding relationships.  “In general, research participants who reported the lowest levels of family-of-origin health also held the greatest number of dysfunctional relationship beliefs, beliefs that make it difficult to derive security, comfort, and satisfaction from romantic relationships.” 


According to Dr. Phillips, one type of dysfunctional relationship belief, in particular, detracts from relationship satisfaction, and that’s the belief that getting close to others yields negative consequences.  “What I discovered in my research was that the more strongly individuals endorsed the idea that close relationships produce undesirable outcomes, the less satisfied they reported being in their current romantic relationships.” 


So, exactly how does what happened in our families-of-origin continue to influence us in our own adult romantic relationships?  Dr. Phillips states that, “It’s within the family of origin that we learn most of what we know about relating to others.  Not only do we learn (or fail to learn) the actual behaviors related to relationship success in our families-of-origin, what occurs in our families while growing up affects our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and expectations regarding relationships.  These thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and expectations, in turn, affect the nature and quality of our romantic relationships.  Basically, family-of-origin experiences shape the way we think about interpersonal relationships and form the template or foundation for all subsequent extra-familial relationships.” 


One might be tempted to wonder whether growing up in an unhealthy or dysfunctional family condemns one to a lifetime of unsatisfying relationships.  However, Dr. Phillips reassures us that  “just because you grew up in a dysfunctional family absolutely does not mean that you are

bound for a life of either living alone or bouncing from one unsatisfying relationship to another.  If you can be honest with yourself and recognize and accept that your family’s interactional patterns perhaps weren’t normal or healthy, then armed with that self-knowledge, you can take the steps necessary to change the way you think about others and relationships and ensure that you don’t end up recreating unhealthy dynamics learned in your family of origin in your own romantic relationships.”


“We humans are a resilient lot.  I never cease to be amazed at the adversity that people are capable of overcoming.”

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