Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Romantic Relationship Commitment Behavior among Emerging Adult African American Men

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Romantic Relationship Commitment Behavior among Emerging Adult African American Men

Article excerpt

Both theory and empirical research have focused on the ways in which emerging adult romantic relationships unfold over time. By late adolescence and emerging adulthood, many relationships become steady, exclusive, and characterized by high levels of intimacy and commitment; such relationships establish the foundation for future family formation (Collins, Welsh, & Furman, 2009; Karney, Beckett, Collins, & Shaw, 2007). Studies investigating sexual health among young African American men have revealed important challenges to their development of exclusive, intimate relationships. During adolescence and emerging adulthood, disproportionate rates of multiple sexual partnerships characterize African American men (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). Often, men's reports of multiple partnerships indicate a sexual concurrency pattern in which sexual relationships with different women overlap, although one woman is considered the primary, steady partner (Senn, Carey, Vanable, Coury-Doniger, & Urban, 2009). Multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships have important implications for men's and their partners' sexual health because such partnerships are related to elevated levels of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies (Adimora et al., 2001). In addition to sexual health-related concerns, engagement in multiple partnerships, rather than serially monogamous relationships, may have prognostic implications for young men's psychosocial development and their formation of families as adults (Karney et al., 2007).

Research also documents the challenges that many African American men experience during later adulthood in developing and maintaining stable, satisfying romantic relationships (Amato, 2011). Compared with other racial/ethnic groups, romantic relationships among African Americans in general, and emerging adults in particular, are characterized by considerable conflict, instability, and dissatisfaction (Amato, 2011; Kurdek, 2008). African Americans' dramatically declining marriage rates since the mid-1980s provide further evidence of the disproportionate relationship challenges that they experience (Amato, 2011).

Patterns of young men's sexual partnering in emerging adulthood and studies of African American adults' relationship quality underscore the importance of investigating African American emerging adult men's relationship commitment behavior. In the context of romantic relationships, emerging adults' commitment-related behavior may be characterized by more or less stability, relationship satisfaction, and sexual fidelity (Furman & Rose, 2015; Karney et al., 2007). We acknowledge that, for some emerging adults, relationship commitment may be the exception rather than the rule. Some researchers suggest that it is normative among middle- and upper-class youths for romantic commitment to be delayed due to career preparation and trends toward later family formation (Shulman & Connolly, 2013). This view is consistent with a perception of emerging adulthood as a psychosocial moratorium, a time of exploration and a form of extended adolescence (Arnett, 2000). This view of the emerging adult transition, however, does not apply to socioeconomically disadvantaged minority youths (Arnett & Brody, 2008). For a number of African American men, poor preparation for work and secondary education, a lack of family economic resources, and experience with racial discrimination affect the nature and prognostic significance of emerging adulthood (Arnett & Brody, 2008). In contrast to a period of experimentation, emerging adulthood is more likely to have enduring consequences than to reflect a temporary developmental transition.

The emerging adult transition thus provides an important window for understanding the development of African American men's romantic relationships. Research to date has documented the role of a range of race-related stressors in undermining close relationships among African Americans in general and men in particular (Bowman, 2006; Johnson, 2010). …

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