A key function of romantic relationships is to make people feel accepted and loved, thus promoting well-being. Yet, many relationships do not serve this function. Adults give relationship difficulties as the most common reason for seeking therapy (Veroff, Kulka, & Douvan, 1981). People in conflicted marriages are often depressed (Coyne, Downey, & Boergers, 1994), and intimate violence is a leading cause of injuries to both adult and adolescent women (Browne, 1993; Centers for Disease Control, 1990). Because troubled romantic relationships are both pervasive and costly, there is considerable interest in understanding how relationships are undermined.
Initially, research on the causes of troubled intimate relationships focused on married couples. It is now clear that the destructive interactional patterns that undermine marriages are evident in adult dating relationships and may be present in adolescent relationships. Intimate violence is a case in point. Minor dating violence precedes serious marital violence in 25% to 50% of cases (Gayford, 1975; O'Leary & Arias, 1988; Roscoe & Benaske, 1985). The level of violence in adult dating relationships is similar to that found in marital relationships (Sugarman & Hotaling, 1989). Reported rates of dating violence in high school students range from 9% to 45% (Bergman, 1992; Downey, Lebolt, & O'Shea-Lauber, 1995; Henton, Cate, Koval, Lloyd, & Christopher, 1983; Molidor, 1993; O'Keefe, Brockopp, & Chew, 1986; Roscoe & Callahan, 1985; Roscoe, & Kelsey, 1986).