Psychopathology and Relational Dysfunction
Among Adolescent Couples:
The Structural Analysis of Social Behavior
as an Organizing Framework
Lorna Smith Benjamin
University of Utah
When two people enter into a romantic relationship, they are usually seeking some measure of intimacy. Based on the principles of attachment theory, it is safe to assume that most romantic couples—even those who are psychologically impaired—engage in high rates of affiliative behavior (Hazan & Shaver, 1994; Tracy, Shaver, Albino, & Cooper, chap. 6, this volume). The warm expression of fondness and caring (security-seeking behavior) is a critical component of most romantic liaisons, at least in the courtship phase of engagement. However, for adolescents who are just beginning the process of learning about and engaging in intimate relationships these experiences can be especially bittersweet: In addition to expressing warmth and care, romantic partners can become demanding, attacking, jealous, and neglecting. The ups and downs of having a romantic relationship (or even an infatuation) will affect the emotional state of most adolescents. Conversely, the psychological health of an adolescent is likely to influence the quality of his or her romantic relationships.
In addition to coping with the normal stressors of learning new social roles, renegotiating family relations, and engaging in intimate relationships, a substantial number of adolescents have serious psychological problems that can undermine the normal course of interpersonal developmental processes (Levitt, Selman, & Richmond, 1991). Compared to children, adolescents are much more likely to be diagnosed with psychological disorders such as depression (Birmaher et al., 1996), alcohol and other substance abuse (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Report, 2001), and eating dis-