Compatibility? Trust? Attraction? Why do some teen relationships survive and others do not?

According to a recent study published by the online journal PLOS ONE, the answer does not have to do with the couple's ability to recover from a fight. In fact, researchers have found that there is no discernable correlation between an adolescent couple's conflict resolution skills and the success of their relationship.

These surprising findings are the result of a four year-long study conducted by researchers at the Behavioral Science Institute of Radboud University. In efforts to understand if different types of conflict resolution styles had an effect on the stability and longevity of teenage relationships, 80 heterosexual couples between the ages of 14 and 16 were followed as they dealt with jealousy, cheating, tardiness, and other common forms relationship drama.

Related studies have tended to focus on adult couples; this analysis is only the third of its kind to follow adolescents. The teenage participants were asked to self-assess their reactions to disputes with their partners. They were also asked to describe their level of satisfaction with the outcome of the conflict. Once a year for four years, they reflected: Do I provoke or engage fights? Do I try to find alternatives? Do I give my partner the silent treatment? Do I need to stand up for myself more? Am I happy with the way things turned out?

To provide an outside perspective, disagreements were also videotaped. Doing so allowed researchers to examine facial expressions, gestures, and speech patterns, in order to externally gauge participants' conflict resolution behavior.

Based upon a statistical analysis of these self-reports and observations, it was concluded that the likelihood of a teenage couple breaking up was independent of how well or poorly they handled their disagreements. Positive forms of problem solving, such as open communication and attempts at compromise, were not found to prevent teenage breakups. Similarly, negative forms of problem solving, such as personal attacks or the silent treatment, were not found to cause more couples to go their separate ways. These results were found to be true for behavior exhibited by both members of the relationship, independent of gender.

"Conflict resolution and conflict recovery are not related to adolescents' romantic relationship breakups. Adolescents who were capable of either resolving or recovering from conflict were not more likely to stay together over time," stated Thao Ha and colleagues from Radboud University.

Such findings come in direct contrast to previous studies conducted amongst adults. According to Dr. Benjamin Karney and Dr. Thomas Bradbury of the University of California, Los Angeles, the success of an adult relationship does depend on the couple's ability to resolve conflicts. The University of Texas has found that couples who are unable to resolve daily conflicts have a higher likelihood of divorce.

How to account for this difference? The authors suggest that it may be a result of fundamental differences in relationship goals, "as younger teen couples are likely to focus more on shared recreational activities and peer approval than on long-term commitment." Additionally, adult relationships tend to be more laden with conflicts and irritations in general, providing more opportunity for conflict resolution skills to prove useful.

Conflict recovery behavior may therefore become more important for relationships as individuals mature and priorities change over time. Until then, the next time your teenage son comes home heartbroken, tell him to hold onto his active listening skills, positive communication abilities, and patience. They will serve him well in the future.

The full text of the study can be found here.