By Nestor Lopez-Duran PhD
Researchers have noted for decades that children view their home environment and relationship with their parents as models, and that this is usually reflected in how these children interact in new environments in the future. For example, children who are exposed to highly aggressive parenting are in turn more likely to use hostility and aggression as means to attain their own goals (see our review of Hoevet et al. 2009 meta-analysis on parenting and delinquency). Children also model positive behaviors. For example, children who see parents reach amicable resolutions to conflicts are also more likely to learn better conflict resolution skills.
Following this line of research, some investigators have examined whether child exposure to specific bonding or attachment styles are also likely to affect how these children act in their own close relationships later on. To answer this question, a research group from Rider University examined the role of the quality of father-daughter bond in the development of positive romantic relationships during young adulthood.
The authors studied 78 teens and young adults (average age 19), who reported on the quality of their relationship with their fathers and their current boyfriends. Three specific relationship domains were examined, namely: communication, trust, and time spent with their boyfriends/fathers.
- Girls with good communication with their fathers also had significantly better communication with their boyfriends when compared to girls with low communication with their fathers.
- Girls with high levels of trust with their fathers also had significantly better communication and trust with their boyfriends.
- Finally, time spent with their fathers was not associated with communication, trust or time spent with their boyfriends.
At first glance, the data seem to show that the quality of bond between daughters and fathers, specifically communication and trust (albeit not time), predicts better communication and trust with their boyfriends. One interpretation is that these girls learn to create secure attachments with their dads, which allow them to then have more positive relationships with their boyfriends (more trust and better communication). It is also possible that fathers contribute to the modeling/development of good communication skills and trust, which affect how these girls interact with their boyfriends. However, it is also possible that this reflects an individual characteristic of the girls themselves and is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the father-daughter bond. That is, it is possible that girls who have good communication with their fathers simply have a specific temperament or communication styles/skills that facilitate the development of good father-daughter communication, and it is this individual characteristic that also leads to better communication with their boyfriends. But more than likely a combination of individual characteristics and child-parent relationships is driving this effect, which would be in line with previous research on the effects of adolescent-parent relationships in later romantic relationships. For example, Donnellan et al. (2005) found that both personality traits and parenting experiences during adolescents predicted the quality of romantic relationships in young adulthood.
All in all, the results are nonetheless very interesting in showing how the quality of father-daughter relationships may affect how daughters experience their relationships with their boyfriends.
Nemeth, Ansary, Seiden, & Keith (2009). Father-Daughter bonds and the quality of daughters romantic relationships: Are the two significantly linked? Poster presented at the Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science. San Francisco, May, 2009. Dr. Nadia Ansary is at Rider University.
Donnellan, M., Larsen-Rife, D., & Conger, R. (2005). Personality, Family History, and Competence in Early Adult Romantic Relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88 (3), 562-576 DOI: 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.112
Hoeve, M., Dubas, J., Eichelsheim, V., Laan, P., Smeenk, W., & Gerris, J. (2009). The Relationship Between Parenting and Delinquency: A Meta-analysis Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10802-009-9310-8