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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. We build on the emerging adulthood and marital reconciliation literatures to examine two forms of relationship instability: reconciliations and sex with an ex. In this young adult sample, cohabitors experience greater relationship churning than daters.
We describe individual demographic, social psychological, and relationship factors associated with reconciliations and sex with an ex. These findings showcase that young adult relationships are characterized by considerable volatility and add to our theoretical and empirical understanding of stability in intimate relationships in emerging adulthood.
With the average age of first marriage at an historical highpoint in the United States U. However, little scholarship has examined breakups and reconciliations outside of the marital context. As such, we know surprisingly little about the prevalence and correlates of these experiences.
Therefore, in this paper we focus on describing the features of these unstable relationships; this descriptive exploration is a necessary first step towards developing a theory of intimate relationship instability outside of the marriage context. Due to differences in commitment and investment levels, we expect that reconciliations will be less common in dating and cohabiting, relative to marital, relationships.
Furthermore, as the lines between breaking up and being in a relationship are blurred, sexual relationships may extend across relationship boundaries. Those in romantic relationships characterized by churning may be having a distinct relational experience from those in more stable unions. Although we limit our examination to two forms of churning in this article reconciliations and sex with an exit is quite possible that there are other behaviors that should also fall under Ongoing relationship that is undefined rubric for theoretical and empirical reasons; the identification and examination of additional churning behaviors, however, is beyond the scope of the present study.
This work contributes to an understanding of intimate relationships in early adulthood by examining the frequency of relationship disruptions as well as the nature of instability in dating and cohabiting relationships in emerging adulthood. Additionally, we explore the relationship correlates of reconciliations and sex with an ex. These findings are important as such forms of relationship churning may influence future relationship trajectories as well as potential exposure to sexual risks.
We determine 1 the prevalence of reconciliations following a break-up and the phenomenon of having sex with an ex and 2 subsequently document associations between demographic, social psychological, and relationship quality characteristics and these dimensions of relationship churning. Many dating relationships proceed in fits and starts, rather than following a linear path that le to either a breakup or deeper commitment.
This is commonly how we think about adolescent relationships. However, we tend to assume that these relationship patterns change in emerging adulthood, becoming more stable as relationship commitment deepens with age. Many studies examining the nature and progression of relationships among young adults stop observing respondents once they experience a breakup see, for example, Arriaga, ; Sprecher, While these studies are instructive for conceptualizing the form and meaning of romantic relationships among young adults, they provide a limited lens on relationships.
This is because the data are censored from further inclusion if the period of breakup spans a data collection point and excludes the possibility of observing the on-going relationship experiences of those who later reconcile. By emerging adulthood, Arnett argues, people begin to look for a longer-term partner, rather than someone in whom they are only immediately interested. Understanding these relationship patterns is also important because they can affect relationship trajectories going forward. Young adults who reconcile may be prone to a behavior pattern that involves cycling through relationship formation and dissolution.
For example, Wineberg reports that reconciliations in a first marriage are a factor hastening the pace of second marriages. Having sex with an ex also may be a risky sexual behavior because former partners may not Ongoing relationship that is undefined the STI and pregnancy precautions they would in other sexual encounters outside of a monogamous relationship because these encounters are occurring between intimately familiar partners. Thus disruptions and reconciliations, as well as having sex with an ex, are part of ongoing relationships, neither ended nor stable, but rather marked by churning.
Much of what we know about relationship disruptions comes from studies of marital relationships. Estimates of reconciliations among married couples vary, and much of the literature is dated and may not reflect contemporary experiences. However, studies consistently demonstrate that reconciliations occur with some frequency across the population. In early work on this topic, Morgan reported that 15 percent of married couples remain reconciled three to four years later.
Using more recently collected data, Winebergb found that one year after reconciliation one-quarter of black women and one-third of white women remained with their spouses. Reconciliation attempts, however, are not randomly distributed across the population. Wineberg shows that older and more educated women and those with longer marriages were less likely to attempt a reconciliation when their first marriages ended. Although they receive relatively minimal research attention, marital reconciliation attempts are not rarities; the research that does exist gives us some basis for hypothesizing about the patterns we may see in the characteristics of those who reconcile in their nonmarital relationships.
Couples in less committed relationships may be less likely to reconcile following a breakup. Following this logic, daters, relative to cohabitors, should be even less likely to reconcile after breaking up, given that they have invested less not having a shared living space and are potentially less committed than cohabitors. However, there is no recent study of a racially diverse, young adult sample and none that specifically compares cohabiting and dating relationships with respect to the incidence of reconciliations.
Studies that consider relationship disruptions among college student samples tend to be limited Ongoing relationship that is undefined generalizability, but do document the fluidity of young adult dating relationships e. Dailey et al. As couples experienced more disruptions, they were likely to report less satisfaction, lower commitment, lower passion, more uncertainty about the relationship, more ineffective conflict, and greater aggression toward partners.
Many, however, describe on-going contact with their exes after breaking up and report being uncertain of the status of their relationships. For example, the partners may have reached a level of familiarity and comfort with one another that would be difficult to replicate with new partners with whom they come in contact. Further, these studies do not give us a complete picture of relationship churning, as they focus exclusively on reconciliations and do not for sexual encounters between exes that is, a former couple may have sex, but not officially get back together, therefore Ongoing relationship that is undefined have reunited, but not reconciled.
In this paper we focus on two relationship behaviors that exemplify relationship churning. These are relationship reconciliations and a couple having sex after formally ending their dating relationship. We refer to reconciliations and having sex with an ex as relationship churning because these are experiences in which a couple is neither stably together nor stably broken up.
We focus on nonmarital relationships, in part, because a key distinction between nonmarital relationships dating and cohabitation and marriage is that marriage is a contract governed by default exit rules that is, a legal divorce Nock, and typically carries with it greater structural commitments that can impede dissolution Cherlin, We observe the frequencies of these relationship churning behaviors among young adults and describe the demographic, social psychological, and relationship characteristics that are associated with each.
Relatively little is known about these behaviors in a nonmarital context, therefore gaining a descriptive understanding of the nature of relationship churning and those who engage in these behaviors is essential. In particular, knowledge is quite limited on 1 how common or normative these behaviors are during this period, and 2 what correlates are associated with variability in these behaviors.
Prior work has shown racial differences in marital reconciliation behaviors. We expect that black young adults may, therefore, be more likely to experience reconciliations in their dating and cohabiting relationships. Two aspects of family background may also contribute to young adults' relationship stability: natal family structure and socioeconomic status.
Those raised outside two-parent households and those from more socioeconomically disadvantaged families may be more prone to experiencing relationship instability McLanahan, ; Teachman, We expect that respondents with a greater sense of control may tend to be more definitive in their relationship choices, and thus may be less likely to experience a reconciliation or to have sex with an ex.
The most proximate set of factors associated with relationship churning is relationship characteristics. Couples with longer lasting relationships may more often experience relationship churning. While duration is a relatively objective measure, we recognize that those with relationship churning may face more challenges in responding to questions about duration; we explore the association between duration and churning while being mindful that churning may create difficulties for both couples and researchers in defining and measuring relationship length.
Simpson finds that closeness between partners is predictive of stability in dating relationships and of greater emotional distress following breakup. Greater intimacy may therefore be associated with a higher likelihood of couples reuniting, drawn back together by their closeness and to ward off their distress following the breakup; this may be the type of positive relationship quality that can help us to understand couples' decisions to reunite despite other negative relationship characteristics. Finally, Dailey, Pfiester, Jin, Beck, and Clark find that those with lasting dating relationships show higher levels of commitment than those who experience disruptions.
Therefore, we expect that those with higher levels of conflict, less validation, greater intimacy, and less commitment will be more likely to experience relationship churning. In sum, we examine the strength of associations between relationship churning behaviors and demographic, social psychological, and relationship quality characteristics.
The Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study TARS is based on a stratified, random sample of 1, students registered for the 7 th9 thand 11 th grades in Lucas County, Ohio, an urban, metropolitan area largely consisting of the city of Toledo. Incorporating over-samples of black and Hispanic youths, the initial sample was devised by the National Opinion Research Center and was drawn from the enrollment records of 62 schools from seven school districts.
Respondents completed interview questionnaires at home using laptop computers, and school attendance was not a requirement for inclusion in the sample. Census data indicate that this sample shares similar socio-demographic characteristics with the Toledo MSA in terms of education, median family income, marital status, and racial distribution. In the present study, we rely on the data from Wave 4 respondents who were interviewed in when they were years old. These data are well suited for these analyses because the respondents were recently interviewed and the TARS is one of the few data sources which includes information on reconciliations and sexual behavior with exes.
Our data are cross-sectional; as such, our goal is not to predict breakups or having sex with an ex, but rather to provide a descriptive portrait of relationship churning. Respondents report on their current or most recent focal relationship. We choose to include both those reporting on current and relationships because prior research has shown that the boundaries defining the end of a relationship are quite fluid. Respondents are directly asked about having had sex with an ex with regard to their current or most recent relationship; that is, have they experienced a breakup and, if so, did they have sex with their ex.
Someone who has not dated in the past two years or who is currently dating could still have sex with an ex by sleeping with an ex from more than two years ago or cheating, respectively ; however, we do not examine these alternative forms of having sex with an ex in the present analyses. We examine more current relationship experiences and sex with an ex that occurs after a breakup or during a disruption in that relationship. This is a total of daters and cohabitors. We rely on two indicators of relationship churning, reconciliations and Ongoing relationship that is undefined with an ex.
For respondents who are reporting on a current relationship, those who report having experienced a breakup in the past with their current partner are coded as having a reconciliation that is, a disruption followed by a reunion. For those who are reporting on a relationship, we code respondents as having experienced a reconciliation if they report having broken up with their ex more than once. The family structure the respondent lived in as a teenager, at Wave 1, is based on a four category measure two-parentsingle-parentstepparentor an alternative arrangement with no parents.
Because many young adults have not completed their educations or launched their careers, we use the respondent's parent's level of education as a proxy for family socioeconomic status parents are classified as having less than a high school degreea high school degreesome collegeor a college degree ; this was measured by parental self-reports at Wave 1 when respondents were years old. We use the respondent's report of the length of the romantic relationship as a measure of duration; responses range fromfrom less than a week to a year or more.
The primary relationship status measure indicates whether the respondent is in a cohabiting or dating relationship. We also include a dummy variable indicating whether the focal relationship is ongoing current or ended. We include a measure of a respondent's sense of controlwhich is constructed following Mirowsky and Ross' formulation.Ongoing relationship that is undefined
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