The Challenge of Romantic Relationships in Emerging Adulthood: Reconceptualization of the Field

Shmuel Shulman, Jennifer Connolly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

325 Scopus citations


Although theories of romantic stage development suggest that youth in the period of emerging adulthood are fully capable of commitment to an intimate romantic relationship, recent research suggests that the relationships of many young people are quite different. Marriage and other forms of deep commitment are delayed while many youth engage in short-term casual encounters or in noncommitted relationships. In this article, we suggest that these data pose a challenge to stage theories that can be reconciled by considering the developmental life tasks that emerging adults must simultaneously resolve. We propose a transitional emerging adult romantic stage, coordinating romance and life plans, in which young people strive to integrate their career paths and life plans with those of a romantic partner. Resolution of this stage provides the grounding for long-term commitment to a life partner. This proposal is discussed within the perspective of life cycle and evolutionary life history theories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-39
Number of pages13
JournalEmerging Adulthood
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Shmuel Shulman received support from the Israeli Science Foundation-ISF grant # 1016/05.


  • adolescent romantic development
  • emerging adulthood
  • life history theory
  • life plans
  • romantic relationships
  • romantic stage theories


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