A path model of couple intimacy: Examining the residuals of parenting style on young adult children's heterosexual couple relationships

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Kenneth V. Hardy


Couple, Heterosexual, Intimacy, Parenting, Adult children

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Sociology | Women's Studies


The purpose of the current study was to propose and empirically test a model of the relations between parenting style and heterosexual young adult children's couple intimacy. In this model, the relation between parent-child relationship quality was examined with Authoritative parenting used as the standard for high quality relationships. Young adult's emotional reactivity, self-disclosure, and conflict avoidance were investigated as possible pathways through which parenting style impacts young adult children's couple intimacy. The model is based on theory and research which suggests that the extent to which the parent/child relationships are characterized by a high degree of warmth, and discipline accompanied by judicious reason and care, children will learn to appropriately regulate their emotions, develop trust in others, and trust in themselves as lovable and socially competent. The literature suggests that these abilities promote person's self-disclosure in close relationships and willingness to address conflict as an inevitable and necessary part of growth in a relationship. Attachment Theory and a feminist perspective guide the conceptualization of intimacy and the interpretation of the results.

Participants included 750 college student couples from middle income socioeconomic status. The sample was selected from a larger data set collected by the Marriage Study Consortium at Brigham Young University from 1989-1996. Respondents completed the PREP-M (Holman, Busby, & Larson, 1989) an instrument designed to assess premarital couple compatibility. Partners' responses were combined in a matched data set so that their answers could be compared and combined couple variables could be constructed.

Authoritative parenting was positively related to young adult children's self-disclosure, and negatively related to emotional reactivity and conflict avoidance. The only direct path found between parent-child relationship quality and couple intimacy was from the father-daughter relationship, with Authoritative parenting being positively related to high levels of couple intimacy. Young adults' self-disclosure was positively related, and emotional reactivity and conflict avoidance was negatively related to couple intimacy. Partners' perceptions of each other were more significant than their perceptions of their own behavior. The length of relationship was positively related to partner's perception of each other's emotional reactivity, males' self-report and females' perception of males' conflict avoidance, and negatively related to females' perception of male's self-disclosure.

The findings regarding the length of relationship are discussed in terms of a pattern in which the female is pursuing the male partner and the male is distancing from her. The findings of the study lend empirical support to theories which suggest that emotional maturity, self-disclosure, and direct problem solving are important variables in promoting couple intimacy.


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