Childhood abuse and neglect and adult intimate relationships: a prospective study

Rebecca A Colman, Cathy Spatz Widom
Child Abuse & Neglect 2004, 28 (11): 1133-51

OBJECTIVE: The present study extends prior research on childhood maltreatment and social functioning by examining the impact of early childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect on rates of involvement in adult intimate relationships and relationship functioning.

METHOD: Substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect from 1967 to 1971 were matched on gender, age, race, and approximate family class with non-abused and non-neglected children and followed prospectively into adulthood. Between 1989 and 1995, 1,196 participants (676 abused and neglected and 520 controls) were administered a 2-hour in-person interview, including a psychiatric assessment and a variety of standardized rating scales.

RESULTS: Male and female abuse and neglect victims reported higher rates of cohabitation, walking out, and divorce than controls. Abused and neglected females were also less likely than female controls to have positive perceptions of current romantic partners and to be sexually faithful.

CONCLUSIONS: Although previous research on childhood maltreatment and adult intimate relationships has emphasized outcomes for female victims of childhood sexual abuse, present findings suggest that other forms of early maltreatment (physical abuse and neglect) also have a negative effect on both males' and females' ability to establish and maintain healthy intimate relationships in adulthood.

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