How Your Relationship Impacts Your Teen’s Future Relationships

Posted on October 25th, 2016


“Teens are too young to really understand.”
“I don’t think my teen knows what’s really going on.”
“Our relationship doesn’t impact our teen.”

These statements are all too common when parents talk about what children and teens think, feel, and know about the parents’ relationship. However, they are all misconceptions. From birth, the relationship children observe the most is the relationship between their parents. They get years of experiences and information, and their parents’ relationship thus serves as a model for what a relationship should look like. A recent article by Ottaway (2010) complied data from multiple studies and reflected that:

Behavior between parents…(when offspring were young adolescents) predicted offspring’s interpersonal behavior with romantic partners…(when offspring were young adults). When parents were warm and supportive with one another, offspring acted warm and supportive toward their romantic partners. The offspring behaviors were then linked with greater relationship satisfaction in their intimate relationships. (p. 8)

Your relationship with your significant other will impact your teens and teach them what to expect in their own relationships.

Given how much of an impact your romantic relationship can have on your teens, it is important to model a healthy romantic relationship. Therefore, here are some important things to consider:

Think about the values you want to teach your teen about healthy relationships. Do you want your teen to learn respect and open communication, or anger and conflict? Is it important to be warm and affectionate or cold and distant? Just being able to identify the type of relationship you hope for your child can help you to practice these values in your own relationship.

What you show your teen is more important than what you tell them. The old adage, “do as I say not as I do,” doesn’t really work. It’s important to model healthy intimate relationships. By modeling effective communication, remaining calm when upset, regulating your emotions, and showing demonstrations of affection, you teach your teen practical ways to implement these tools for him/herself.

Have open conversations with your teen about healthy relationships. Allowing your teen to ask questions and have open conversations allows you to address misconceptions, provide important information about healthy relationships, and encourage your teen to come to you if your teen is struggling with his/her own relationships. Additionally, it can enhance the overall relationship you have with your teen.

Let your teen see how you and your partner resolve conflict. It’s important to show your child the positive sides of a relationship, as well as how to handle conflict and disagreements. Demonstrating positive behaviors, respectful language, a calm demeanor, and the ability to take responsibility for your mistakes is important when modeling how to have a disagreement or conflict in a relationship. Additionally, apologizing when you make a mistake shows your teen that everyone makes mistakes, it’s okay to make a mistake, and how to come back and repair the mistake. Conflict is unavoidable in any relationship. The way you and your partner handle conflict is much more important than trying to avoid conflict altogether. 

Have fun! It’s important to show your teen the positive aspects of a relationship. We are in relationships to enjoy the other person’s company, to laugh together, and to create a life together. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to show your teen how much fun a relationship can be?

In the end, your teens are always watching you, your partner, and your relationship. Ottaway (2010) shared that “parents’ intimate relationships may determine how young adults resolve their own personal issues with intimacy and marriage” (p. 8). Teens are forming their own thoughts and ideas about what relationships should look like. They are learning new ways to be in intimate relationships and how to act in them. Modeling healthy ways to be in a romantic relationship will help teens learn what to expect from them, and how to act in their own relationships.

Ottaway, Amber (2010) “The Impact of Parental Divorce on the Intimate Relationships of Adult Offspring: A Review of the Literature,” Graduate Journal of Counseling Psychology: Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 5. Available at:

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.