Happy Home in Adolescence Tied to Good Marriages Later

A family gathers around the dinner table
(Image credit: Family dinner photo via Shutterstock)

Having a warm and supportive home during one's teenage years may make for more satisfying marriages later on, new research suggests.

Those who come from a family where people can talk positively through conflicts tend to bring the same supportive communication style to their marriages. And they tend to be more satisfied with their marriages, according to the research.

"The overall family climate seems to matter," said study author Robert Ackerman, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Dallas. "A positive family climate is related to individuals being more positively engaged with their spouses."

The findings were published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Secret to happy marriages?

Past studies have shown that people who have happy marriages are more generous than those who don't, and that people who as teens witnessed divorce or aggression tend to have less happy marriages.  [6 Scientific Tips for a Successful Marriage]

But not much research has looked at how supportive family environments during the tumultuous teenage years affect marriage later on, Ackerman told LiveScience.

To find out, Ackerman and his colleagues looked at data taken between 1989 and 1991 from 288 seventh-graders. Researchers had visited the students' families and then recorded different family members as they discussed a common source of conflict (such as doing chores). The researchers then rated how well people were able communicate clearly and assertively while still being warm and supportive toward the other person.

Long-term pattern

Ackerman's team then went back to those youngsters and watched them interact with their spouses about 20 years later. They surveyed the couples about their marriages and watched a 25-minute interaction between them, looking for signs of the same effective communication.

Children who came from homes with warm and supportive communication tended to be more satisfied with their marriages years later, Ackerman found. They also tended to interact more positively in their marriage, displaying more effective communication and warmth.

The findings can't prove that warm family upbringings actually cause people to be more supportive in their marriages. But when the researchers controlled for the fact that some people simply tend to be supportive of everybody, a warm family environment predicted more positive interactions in marriage decades later, Ackerman said.

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Tia Ghose
Managing Editor

Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.