Young adulthood marked by relationship ‘churning’

BOWLING GREEN, O.—It’s a tumultuous time in life — the late teens, early 20s — especially when it comes to relationships. That instability is the focus of a new study from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) at Bowling Green State University.

“Relationship Churning in Emerging Adulthood: On/Off Relationships and Sex with an Ex” will be published in the March edition of the Journal of Adolescent Research. It was co-authored by former NCFMR postdoctoral fellow Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Dr. Wendy Manning, co-director of the NCFMR; Dr. Peggy Giordano, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, sociology; and Dr. Monica Longmore, a professor of sociology.

Researchers took their data from The Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study, a random sample of students drawn from the enrollment records of 62 schools from seven school districts in Lucas County, Ohio. The study relied on data from nearly 800 respondents who were 17 to 24 years old when interviewed.

The study found approximately 44 percent of emerging adults who have been in a romantic relationship in the past two years experienced at least one reconciliation, which is a breakup followed by a reunion. And more than half (53 percent) of those who experienced reconciliations also reported having had sex with this ex.

Overall, more than one-quarter of the respondents had sex with an ex, with similar proportions of men and women responding yes. Those who had sex with an ex were more likely to be older and in a cohabiting relationship.

Taken together, 48 percent of the total sample experienced some form of relationship “churning,” while 24 percent experienced both forms.

Researchers suggest future studies should look at whether those who experience relationship “churning” in the emerging adult years are more likely to have such relationship instability later in life, in cohabiting or marriage. Halpern-Meekin noted, “This study shows that there is a lot of fluidity in emerging adults’ romantic relationships. They are fairly likely to go through periods of being undefined or in flux. We are still learning what this may mean for young people’s well-being and future romantic experiences.”


(Posted January 31, 2013 )

Updated: 12/02/2017 12:53AM