If you’re at Valentine’s Day dinner tonight, don’t be surprised to find a younger couple bickering and an older pair getting romantic.
In a recent University study, younger adults were shown to view both romantic and platonic relationships more negatively than older adults.
Psychology Prof. Toni Antonucci, co-author of the study, said the high level negativity in younger adults might be because they’re still struggling to understand relationships and how they feel about them.
“As people get older, they can continue relationships they care about and discontinue ones they don’t care about,” she said.
She said older people are more likely to protect themselves from bothersome relationships by either getting out of them or managing them “intellectually,” like learning to ignore a partner’s annoying habit.
University researcher Kira Birditt, a co-author of the study, said the higher negativity among study participants in their 20s and 30s was consistent with other findings.
“Usually we think of it as a developmental thing, that people get better able to regulate their emotions with age,” she said.
The study was conducted in two phases. About 1,300 people between the ages of 20 and 93 from the metro-Detroit area were interviewed in 1992 and about 830 of those participants were contacted a second time in 2005 to determine how the negativity in their relationships changed over time. The best friend a subject reported in 1992 was often not the same best friend the subject reported in 2005. The study found that negativity in platonic relationships decreased only among those who reported a new friend the second time around.
Participants rated the negative qualities in their relationships with spouses and significant others, children and best friends. One said, “My (spouse/partner, child, friend) gets on my nerves,” and the other said “My (spouse/partner, child, friend) makes too many demands on me.”
Antonucci said one reason for higher negativity in younger relationships might be that younger individuals are more expressive and intense in their relationships.
“Younger people are more engaged in the discovery of life,” she said. “So they react with more intensity, and that intensity is both positive and negative.”
LSA junior Heather Studer, who got married March of last year, said that being in college plays a role in the way students view romantic relationships.
“No one really thinks of them as long term,” she said. “Some people would rather work on their school career and may not necessarily put their relationship with a person first.”
The study found that contrary to romantic relationships, friendships improved over time. Older people, though, still reported fewer negative friendships than younger participants did.
LSA senior Sharada Maddox said younger people tend to enter relationships for the wrong reasons. She said people base friendships on numbers rather than merit, which could lead to more clashes between individuals.
“People do focus on the number of friends as opposed to the quality,” she said. “People want to say, ‘I have 500 friends,’ so you get a circle of friends that aren’t so like-minded.”
In their report, University researchers pointed out that past research suggests friendships decrease in negativity over time because they become more voluntary. Another reason, they said, might be that older people view friendships as less demanding because they can devote more time to friendships.
Antonucci said younger people didn’t necessarily always place less importance relationships.
“I think it’s a dichotomous thing,” she said.