Understanding Romantic Relationships and Resilience Among Street-Involved Youth: A Quantitative and Qualitative Exploration
Joly, Lauren Elizabeth
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Aims: This study examined romantic relationships among street-involved youth through the perspectives of resilience and developmental relationship theory. The main goal was to determine if romantic relationships were related to resilience among street-involved youth. Methods: Two studies were conducted. A self-report survey administered to125 youth at shelters examined if the positive and negative qualities of romantic relationships were linked to higher and lower resilience (Study 1). Study 1 also provided current descriptive data on the youths romantic relationship activities. In Study 2, 21 youth participated in semi-structured interviews. A thematic analysis was conducted exploring how the youth understand their romantic relationships as supporting or undermining their resilience. Results: Study 1 found that romantic relationships were linked to resilience. Involvement in survival sex was associated with higher drug use and lower self-esteem. Among youth in a current romantic relationship, physical and sexual dating violence were associated with lower core strengths, and sexual dating violence was associated with self-esteem. Positive relationship qualities were also found to play a role in resilience, with feeling in love linked to higher self-esteem. Study 2 indicated that consistent with the social bonding theory, connection, support, validation, and encouragement within a relationship were related to the youths resilience, in the form of comparatively lower drug use, achieving goals, increasing self-worth, and promoting positive coping. The youth also reported many negative experiences within their romantic relationships, including dating violence and the stress of street-life, which they saw as undermining their resilience. A key finding was that the youth appeared to have difficulty integrating the positive and negative aspects of their relationships. These results were encapsulated through the meta-theme: It can be Beautiful or Destructive, along with five main themes. Discussion: In this study, the majority of youth had been involved with a romantic partner at some point in their lives. Through these relationships the youth face both positive and detrimental experiences, which are linked to other areas of their functioning. Addressing the negative aspects of the youths relationships, and promoting the development of more positive romantic relationships may play a role in increasing the youths resilience.