Childhood Maltreatment Affects Adult Romantic Relationships

May 28, 2012

According to a new research by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) scientists, childhood emotional abuse can negatively affect a person's romantic relationships later in life.

To reach this conclusion, Professor Golan Shahar and Dana Lassri, doctoral candidate at BGU's Department of Psychology, carried out two separate studies involving college students with a history of Childhood Emotional Maltreatment (CEM). Childhood Maltreatment includes emotional abuse, neglect, physical maltreatment, and is a significant contributor to the huge increase in referrals to university counseling centers. CM is also associated with self-criticism which has a deleterious effect on romantic relationships.

Researchers thoroughly analyzed how satisfied were the participants with their intimate relationships as well as how stable the relationships were. As mentioned above, the experts found that there was a link between CEM and troubled romantic relationships in adult years. In particular, childhood emotional abuse detrimentally affected relationship fulfillment due to a person's self-criticism. Students had a very strong tendency to underestimate themselves and to cut themselves down, which ultimately led to a lack of satisfaction with their romantic relationships.

It was also revealed that due to the history of endured emotional maltreatment, some participants experienced symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.). Researchers suggest that this could be happening because of a child's inability to correctly understand the circumstances or as a result of internalizing behaviors triggered by the maltreatment.

For those individuals who had already gone through a torture of a troubled childhood this news is really bad, the authors wrote. And because all the participants of the study are still so young, researchers believe that the behaviors could worsen into adulthood as the self-criticism becomes even more internalized, causing more relationship troubles, such as divorce, for example.

According to Ms. Lassri, whose doctoral dissertation served as the basis for the study, over time, the tendency of self-criticism might get even stronger and become a defining part of an individual's personality, and ultimately destroying his/her relationships in general and romantic relationships in particular. Ms. Lassri assumes that even though these new findings were obtained from college students, the behaviors could become even worse in later years.

Unfortunately, the investigators did not look at any potential ways for sufferers of Childhood Emotional Maltreatment to somehow bypass such relationship-destroying behaviors. However, they mentioned college counseling centers as an outlet for troubled students to talk about their problems and frustrations. And those who think or feel that their childhood years might be in some way affecting their ability to be happy in the future, should seek help from professional services, the experts suggested.

Both studies are published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Tags: Relationships, Abuse and Violence, Parenting and Families

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