Sibling dynamics in adolescence predict young adult orientations to couple relationships: A dyadic approach

Xiaoran Sun, Susan M. McHale, Kimberly A. Updegraff

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4 Scopus citations


Introduction: Adolescents' sibling relationships may serve as a training ground for couple relationships given their similar features, including companionship, closeness and role structure. This study used a dyadic approach to examine sibling intimacy and control in adolescence as predictors of young adults' couple relationship orientations (attachment avoidance and anxiety and attitudes toward marriage). Additionally, research documenting the significance of an other-sex sibling for adolescents’ romantic competence guided tests of sibling dyad sex constellation as a moderator of links between sibling relationships and couple relationship orientations in our predominantly heterosexual sample of youth. Method: Firstborns and secondborns from 151 families (Time 1 ages M = 16.42, SD = 0.79 and M = 13.83, SD = 1.14, respectively) reported on their sibling relationships in three annual home interviews and on their couple relationship orientations in web surveys ten years after Time 1. Results: Estimating actor-partner interdependence models revealed negative effects of sibling intimacy and positive effects of control toward sibling on avoidant attachment, and positive effects of control toward and by sibling on anxious attachment. Sex constellation moderated the interaction effects of the two siblings' intimacy reports on attitudes toward marriage: Mutual high intimacy among mixed-sex dyads predicted more positive attitudes; among same-sex dyads, adolescents' own intimacy compensated for siblings’ lower intimacy in predicting positive attitudes toward marriage. Findings emerged with parent marital love controlled. Conclusion: Findings suggest long-term effects of sibling relationships on couple relationship orientations and demonstrate the benefits of using dyadic approaches to examine the implications of sibling relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-138
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Adolescence
StatePublished - Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development ( R01-HD32336 ) to Susan M. McHale, Kimberly A. Updegraff, Adriana J. Umaña-Taylor, and Ann C. Crouter, Co-Principal Investigators. Xiaoran Sun was supported by National Science Foundation under IGERT Grant ( DGE-1144860 ), “Big Data Social Science”. The authors are grateful to the undergraduate and graduate assistants, staff, and faculty collaborators for their help in conducting this study, as well as the participating families for their time and insights about family relationships.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019


  • Actor-partner interdependence model
  • Adolescence
  • Couple relationship orientations
  • Sibling relationships
  • Young adulthood


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