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Abstract

This exploratory study examined how often young adults discussed their romantic relationship problems with their social networks: partners, friends, mothers, and fathers (“relationship work” or RW). Using a sample of 82 heterosexual, romantically involved young adults, we found that participants engaged in RW most frequently with partners, followed by friends and mothers, and least with fathers. Suggesting that young adults vary in their disclosure patterns, cluster analyses revealed three groups: disclosers, who shared romantic challenges with all parties examined; selectives, who primarily discussed romantic problems with partners and mothers; and discretes, who engaged in low RW overall. Although RW with mothers was not concurrently associated with partners’ love and conflict, RW with fathers was associated with less love and greater conflict. Moreover, when looking at a subsample of 56 participants who remained together over the course of a year, greater reported romantic love at Time 1 predicted less RW with fathers 1 year later at Time 2. Findings suggest that romantic and social dynamics in emerging adulthood may determine the extent to which young adults confide in their mothers and fathers about romantic problems, but that both parents play important roles. Scholars need to consider the influence of the social network, including parents, on romantic relationship functioning, particularly in young adulthood. Practitioners may also benefit from discussing appropriate and helpful ways of actively involving the social network in romantic challenges.

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