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A longitudinal study examining the associations between interpersonal trauma and romantic relationships among college students

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 December 2021

Rebecca L. Smith*
Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA
Danielle M. Dick
Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA Department of Human and Molecular Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA
Ananda Amstadter
Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA
Nathaniel Thomas
Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA
Jessica E. Salvatore*
Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA
Corresponding authors: Rebecca L. Smith, email:; Jessica E. Salvatore, email:
Corresponding authors: Rebecca L. Smith, email:; Jessica E. Salvatore, email:


We examined the associations between the developmental timing of interpersonal trauma exposure (IPT) and three indicators of involvement in and quality of romantic relationships in emerging adulthood: relationship status, relationship satisfaction, and partner alcohol use. We further examined whether these associations varied in a sex-specific manner. In a sample of emerging adult college students (N = 12,358; 61.5% female) assessed longitudinally across the college years, we found precollege IPT increased the likelihood of being in a relationship, while college-onset IPT decreased the likelihood. Precollege and college-onset IPT predicted lower relationship satisfaction, and college-onset IPT predicted higher partner alcohol use. There was no evidence that associations between IPT and relationship characteristics varied in a sex-specific manner. Findings indicate that IPT exposure, and the developmental timing of IPT, may affect college students’ relationship status. Findings also suggest that IPT affects their ability to form satisfying relationships with prosocial partners.

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© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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