Robert Ackerman of the University of Texas at Dallas and colleagues examined longitudinal data from individuals participating in the Iowa Youth and Families Project. Family interactions were assessed when the participants were in seventh grade.
The interactions were coded for five indicators of positive engagement -- listener responsiveness, assertiveness, pro-social behavior, effective communication and warmth-support.
Study participants who came from families that expressed more positive engagement also expressed less hostility toward their spouses, and their spouses displayed less hostile behavior toward them.
The study, published in the Psychological Science, found teens who showed and experienced more positive engagement in their families showed more positive engagement in their marriages 17 years later -- and their spouses also showed more positive engagement.
Earlier research has demonstrated long-term effects of aggression and divorce across generations, but the impact of a positive family climate has received less attention, Ackerman said.