Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Deborah P. Welsh

Committee Members

Greer Litton Fox, Lowell Gaertner, Kristina Coop Gordon


The purpose of this study was to examine the association between self-silencing and aspects of relational and individual functioning among adolescent couple members involved in romantic relationships. Two hundred and eleven adolescent couples dating for a minimum of four weeks completed questionnaires assessing relationship satisfaction, self-silencing behaviors, sexual behaviors, global communication, and experiences of depressive symptomatology. Adolescent couples also participated in a videotaped conflictual interaction and rated perceptions of themselves and their partner on dimensions of frustration, conceding, sarcasm, and discomfort.

Data analyses addressed the effect of self-silencing on aspects of relational and individual functioning for both actor (the person doing the self-silencing) and partner. Results indicated that self-silencing couple members reported earlier age of transition to first sexual intercourse and greater discomfort refusing sexual activity from his or her partner. Self-silencing couple members also reported conceding to their partner during a conflictual discussion and poor global communication within the relationship overall. Self-silencing couple members also reported greater experiences of depressive symptomatology. This relationship was not stronger among adolescent girls compared to adolescent boys.

Partners of self-silencing couple members reported feelings of frustration and discomfort when interacting with the self-silencing member. Reports of self-silencing by one couple member were not associated with his or her partner’s reports of depressive symptoms, global communication, or sexual behaviors.

Significant actor and partner effects were not found for the association between relationship satisfaction and self-silencing, but correlational analyses by gender did reveal a significant negative correlation among adolescent girls. Self-silencing girls reported poor relationship satisfaction overall.

Self-silencing, or the inhibition of self-expression appears to play a role in shaping adolescent romantic relationships. The results of this study provide evidence that self-silencing affects multiple aspects of intimate relationships, including communication patterns, sexual activity, and ultimately the quality of relational and individual functioning. Implications of these findings and suggestions for future research are explored.

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