Category: Couples / Close Relationships

Symposium

Teens' Decision Making About Exclusivity in Romantic Relationships

Saturday, November 18
1:15 PM - 2:45 PM
Location: Sapphire Ballroom E & F, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Couples / Close Relationships | Diversity | Adolescents
Presentation Type: Symposium

Awareness and acceptance of diverse relationship structures (e.g., non-monogamy) is increasing, which may increase the choices available to people about what kind of relationship commitment they want to make (Anderson, 2016). Yet ambiguity about relationship status and commitment is also increasing, especially among young people (Roberson et al., 2016). Research is lacking on the ways that young people navigate these increasingly complex commitment decisions. The current study investigated this question by examining “defining the relationship” (DTR) talks among teens in romantic relationships. Teens aged 15-17 completed an online survey about their current and previous relationships. Participants who reported a previous relationship were selected for the current analyses (N=312). Of these participants, 57% of reported having a DTR talk with their previous partner; of those, 71% discussed whether they wanted to be romantically exclusive, and 56% discussed being sexually exclusive. Thus, over 60% of participants had no discussion about whether their previous relationship would be exclusive. Approximately 10% reported disagreeing with their partner about exclusivity after having a DTR talk, and those who disagreed were more likely to report that their actual relationship structure was not exclusive. Participants who discussed romantic exclusivity were significantly happier in their relationship than those who did not, even if they disagreed with their partner about the desired relationship structure. In contrast, participants who disagreed about sexual exclusivity after a DTR were less happy than those who agreed. Discussing sexual exclusivity also predicted greater likelihood of cheating, regardless of agreement. These results provide a novel window into the processes by which teens make decisions about relationship commitment. In some cases, DTR talks addressing exclusivity seem to be helpful and protective. In other cases, DTR talks may lead to (or be spurred by) disagreements, which predict less desired outcomes. Discussion will focus on the potential of research on commitment decisions to help young people navigate an increasingly complex relationship terrain.

Kayla Knopp

Graduate Student
University of Denver

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