Close Relationship with Mom Leads to Better Romance Later

How well you get along with your parents in your teens might influence your romantic relationships a decade later, a new study suggests.

The results show a close relationship with one's mother in early adolescence was associated with better-quality romantic relationships as young adults.

The findings highlight the importance of the parent-child bond for building relationships later in life, the researchers say.

"Parents' relationships with their children are extremely important and that's how we develop our ability to have successful relationships as adults, our parents are our models," said study researcher Constance Gager, of Montclair State University in New Jersey. "So if kids are not feeling close with their parents then they're probably not going to model the positive aspects of that relationship when they reach adulthood."

However, the strength of the parent-child connection later in adolescence, after the age of 14, did not seem to influence the children's romantic relationships when they were older. This might be because late adolescence is too late to have an impact, Gager said.

"Adolescents may be more fully formed by age 14 so that there's not as much effect of their parents' relationship on them," she told LiveScience.

The results were presented on May 28 at the Association for Psychological Science Convention in Boston.

Mother's warmth

Gager and her colleagues analyzed the results of a national survey involving nearly 7,000 married couples in the United States. Between 1992 and 1994, the mothers, fathers and children, aged 10 through 17, were asked about their relationships with each other. About a decade later, between 2001 and 2004, the children, now aged 20 to 27, were surveyed about their relationships with people they were dating (but not living with).

The parents and children were asked to rate statements about the "warmth" and closeness of their relationships, such as "It's easy for me to laugh and have a good time with my parent/child," and "I feel on edge or tense when I'm with my parent/child."

The grown-up children had to answer questions regarding relationship satisfaction and how much conflict they were having with their dating partners.

Only the mother's description of the relationship with her child was able to predict how well those children got along with their serious boyfriends/girlfriends later. Specifically, those children with warm and close relationships with their mothers had more satisfaction and less conflict with their significant others

Although fathers have become more involved in the lives of their children in recent decades, the research suggests that it might not quite be enough to have an effect on the children's adult romantic relationships, Gager said. She notes that women are still responsible for two-thirds of the household labor and childcare.

"But we hope in the future as men become more involved with their children and things move along to maybe be a little more equal that we'll start to see effects of fathers on their children," she said.

What about children's views?

The fact that a mother's perception of closeness, but not the child's, influenced the adult romantic relationships might be due to children not being as good survey-takers as adults are, Gager said.

In future studies, scientists might need to reconsider how to phrase questions in order to better gauge perceptions of children, she said.

"It could be that we're not tapping into the kinds of things that might be more meaningful to children," Gager said. "Maybe 'warm' doesn’t mean anything to children," whereas it would to an adult."

"Maybe today we would say 'Do you like hanging around with your parents,'" to make the phrase more attuned to children's vernacular, she said.

Future work should also examine romantic relationships not just involving people who are dating, but people who are living together or married, she said.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.