The Impact of Relationship Stressors on Trust and Prorelationship Behavior Within Adolescent Romantic Relationships: A Systems Approach

Pamela A. Matson, Shang En Chung, J. Dennis Fortenberry, Kristen Hassmiller Lich, Jonathan M. Ellen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Trust is an essential component of romantic relationships. It is not understood how youth respond to a relationship stressor, which may impact trust, such as perceiving to be at risk for a sexually transmitted infection or their partner has other sex partners. We used a system science approach to examine feedback between trust and prorelationship behaviors within adolescent relationships. Methods: A prospective cohort of clinic-recruited young women (N = 122), aged 16–19 years, completed daily questionnaires on partner-specific feelings and risk perceptions for 18 months. Relationship stressor defined as either perceiving the risk of sexually transmitted infection from a partner or partner had other sex partners. Prorelationship behaviors were more time spent with partner, sex with partner, and/or gift from partner. Time-lagged generalized estimating equation models were used to examine whether a relationship stressor is associated with a decrease in trust and whether prorelationship behaviors changed following the stressor. Results: Experiencing a stressor was associated with threefold increased odds of having a decrease in trust in the same week (odds ratio [OR] = 3.30, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 2.30–4.72). Trust increased significantly the week following the stressor (OR = 2.09, 95% CI: 1.54–2.85). An increase in trust relative to the week of the stressor was associated with a 65% increase in prorelationship behavior in the week following the stressor (OR = 1.65, 95% CI: 1.20–2.26). Conclusions: Data uniquely show that trust is impacted following a relationship stressor and that youth increase prorelationship behaviors following a drop in trust. The findings suggest that adolescents prioritize maintaining trust, which may impact engagement in protective health behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)558-564
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Concurrency
  • Intensive longitudinal data
  • Prorelationship behaviors
  • Risk perception
  • Romantic relationships
  • Systems science
  • Trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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