A group led by six university researchers wanted to understand why some people are more committed in relationships than others and what causes them to be that way. In their search, the cross-university team chose to study participants from a previous 30-year study on growth and development. The study, called the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation (MLSRA) is one of the most comprehensive psychological studies on human development from childhood to adulthood.
Using data in the study they discovered that people could be grouped into two distinct relationship categories based on their childhood experiences. They named these groups strong links and weak links. Whether a person is a strong link or a weak link greatly influences how committed they will be in a relationship. In addition, the groups work best with each other — strong links do well with other strong links, and weak links are better paired with other weak links.
Strong links are the more committed partners in relationships. They tend to invest more in their relationships and consider their relationships an important aspect of their lives.
What makes a person a strong link? Two major factors were found in the childhoods of those who made strong link partners as adults: a supportive, involved mother and an ability to work through conflict. In other words, if a person was cared for and attended to as a child and had to work through conflict with peers, they grew up to make a more committed partner.
Those who are less committed in relationships are called weak links. In relationships, weak links tend to have one foot out the door and are less invested in their relationships.
According to the analysis, a weak link partner usually received less support and care from their mothers in childhood and were less adept at resolving conflict in their teen and pre-teen years. As partners they are less willing to work through relationship issues and less hopeful about the future of their relationships.
Link A + Link A or Link B + Link B
Unsurprisingly, those relationships with two strong link partners showed the greatest commitment levels. They were also more satisfied with the current state of their relationship and optimistic about its long-term viability. Relationships which involved a strong link and a weak link had more friction and less stability.
But weak link partners also got along better with each other. Relationships between two weak links showed less hostility than weak/strong pairings. Even those such pairings were less stable, partners generally got along better.
It’s long been thought that a person’s childhood background influences their adult relationships, now there is support for that notion. But while the study supports one common idea, it can be seen as contradicting another. Simply put, over the long-term opposites repel and just don’t last.