Academic journal article Family Relations

The Family of Origin Parachute Model: Landing Safely in Adult Romantic Relationships*

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Family of Origin Parachute Model: Landing Safely in Adult Romantic Relationships*

Article excerpt


This study investigates the utility of the family of origin parachute model in predicting longitudinal outcomes for couples in romantic relationships. This conceptual model contains common family variables that are theoretically and empirically related to later adult functioning and are believed to influence attitudes that adult children develop regarding romantic relationships as well as self-esteem. Data from two samples were used to analyze this model. The results support the model and demonstrate its ability to predict membership in relationship satisfaction groups. Suggestions are presented for integrating the family of origin in applied work.

Key Words: attitudes, family of origin, marriage, parents, relationships.

Almost all family scholars would argue that the family of origin (FOO) is tremendously important in launching children into adult life with the attitudes, behaviors, and skills that facilitate success in adult romantic relationships. The evidence to support this argument is provided by the abundance of literature on the influence of parental marriage quality, attachment, family structure, abuse, parenting, and other attributes of the FOO on the social functioning and the marital quality of adult children (Amato & DeBoer, 2001; Busby, 2000; Delsol, Margolin, & John, 2003; Hazan & Shaver, 1994; Heaton, 2002; Hetherington, 2003; Holman & Associates, 2001; Larson & Holman, 1994; Leon, 2003; Waters, Vaughn, Posada, & Kondo-Ikemura, 1995). However, when practitioners, educators, and researchers apply this knowledge to their work with families and couples, the results can be frustrating. Often the assessment instruments and research scales demonstrate that the more proximal couple variables such as couple communication, empathy, and conflict, overshadow the distal FOO variables so that most of the FOO variables are not significant in multivariate analyses (Bradbury & Fincham, 1991; Busby, Holman, & Taniguchi, 2001; Conger, Cui, Bryant, & Elder, 2000; Glenn & Kramer, 1987; Kelly & Conley, 1987).

Professionals working with couples and family members often find participants to be relatively dismissive regarding legacies or influences of the FOO (Ivey, Busby, & Harris, 2004). Some participants in classes and enrichment programs may be struggling against what they perceive to be deterministic messages that suggest that once certain things happen (i.e., violence or divorce), people are destined to repeat these problems in their adult relationships. When these small direct effects in research studies that include FOO variables are coupled with the negative attitudes toward the FOO of some participants in education and enrichment experiences, it can be tempting to forego utilization of the FOO for the more compelling proximal couple variables. This reality should not lead researchers and educators to abandon the FOO, rather it should lead to more advanced models that demonstrate the mediating and moderating variables that come between the FOO experience and adult relationships (Holman & Associates, 2001; Karney & Bradbury, 1995).

Although it is inappropriate to provide people with the impression that the FOO creates patterns that cannot be overcome and addressed, it is also inappropriate to dismiss the influence of the FOO as irrelevant. In our assessment and intervention work with couples, we have struggled to develop models and assessment instruments that balance the approach to the FOO so that it is useful for exploring attitudes, values, and behaviors that may have emerged from the FOO as well as provide couples with a sense of hope and an awareness of the strengths that can emerge from even the most negative experiences in the past. A balanced FOO intervention approach is accomplished through three mechanisms: First, the multitude of FOO variables are organized into models that are easy to understand yet are still comprehensive. …

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