Although the theory of development by Erik Erikson maintained that humans develop in psychosocial stages, it is the psychological adjustments people undertake in regard to lifestyle and aging that mark significant areas of development. The transition through early adulthood and middle adulthood demand resilience in the pursuit of intimacy, specific function, and quality of life. The subject matter for this paper will expound on the evolution of social and intimate relationships during this period and identify the various role changes experienced. Additionally, a brief examination of the immediate and future effect of healthy and unhealthy habits practiced will be provided. Whereas many people define early adulthood as reaching the age of majority, the transition to adulthood has also been marked by the category of emerging adulthood (DeVito, 2009). This period of change is, like the stages of development prior, complicated with new challenges and uncertainties. Exploration, identity progress, and broadening values subject an early adult to cultural changes and variations as well as risks in grappling with momentous choices.
At the height of these choices and influences, the human need for social and intimate relationships evolves and develops through experimentation and adjustments. The capacity to overcome challenges and adversity signifies the resilience that has emerged and continues to support the growth throughout early and middle adulthood. Humans are innately social and the socio-emotional development of relationships is typically marked by a greater sense of independence, increased responsibility, and an attempt to balance autonomy and intimacy. During early adulthood and continuing into middle adulthood, there is a progression of positive identity that promotes good interpersonal skills and relationships, social integration, and social support (Berger, 2010). Although many theorists, such as Erikson and Freud, argue that early adulthood is the stage when individuals seek to form intimate relationships.
This stage is commonly referred characterized by interpersonal relationships and work. The social support of positive relationships with parents, peers, teachers, and mentors provide a sense of social connection that fosters resilience in the pursuit of relationships. According to Berger (2010), it is Erikson’s theory of intimacy versus isolation that drives the need to forge meaningful relationships or fall prey to the lack of social connection. The social relationships take a secondary position in many areas to the pursuit of an intimate connection and permanent commitment. This development progresses through middle adulthood in much the same manner but is approach with a greater base of experience and skill. Because Erikson argues that intimacy is attained by a secure individual identity, the developed identity during these stages assures a greater chance of a successful intimate relationship. Middle adulthood relationship developments result from a transition between a current structure and a new phase aimed at harmonizing inner personal and societal demands (Reeve, 2009).
Akin to the premise that humans are flexible and resilient, the adaptation to life suggests that humans alter themselves and social world to suit positive relationships. Psychologist Sigmund Freud argued that a healthy adult is one who can love and work as these are the main concerns of early and middle adulthood (Reeve, 2009). According to DeVito (2009), role changes throughout early and middle adulthood define the rights, duties, and scripts common to social positions. Whereas many roles are codified, the steady series of role acquisitions, strains, transitions, disjunctions, and losses also can be informal. The role of intimate partner has many minimum expectations but is generally confined within the relationship rules. Career changes and social circles can change many times during these periods and with each comes a new expectancy for role fulfillment. Consider the multiple roles of a full-time employee who is also a parent and student pursuing a graduate degree. Each role is expected to change in time and affect another area of the persons life. The degree earned is anticipated to beget more career choices but may also be influenced by geographical and market factors.
Preparation for the anticipated changes in roles and relationships will need some support from the physiology aspect of a person’s development. Just as humans are to learn healthy habits during childhood and adolescence for the highest degree of positive development, the opportunity for maintaining those habits decreases in early and middle adulthood. This can be attributed to the various roles and responsibilities of these stages but is also affected by the habits developed during childhood. Because physical change does not end in adolescence but continues throughout life, the normal changes of an aging body can be positively affected with healthful behaviors. According to Berger (2010), it is important to practice healthy habits through the life span to reduce the risk of developing illnesses and disabilities common among older adults. Common changes occurring throughout life that affect the physical, mental, emotional, and social transitions, are either directly or indirectly influenced by healthy habits. Senescence, the gradual physical decline related to aging, occurs once physical growth stops but can be accelerated by unhealthy habits and practices.
To emphasize the effect of these practices, consider the immediate influence tobacco has on the person and his or her social or emotional development. Many public places ban smoking and some people are offended by secondhand smoke inhalation whereas others despise the odor in the clothing of the smoker. According to Berger (2010), “ each additional day of smoking makes cancer, heart disease, strokes, and emphysema more likely,” this includes each breath of secondhand smoke (p. 427). Because healthy habits and practices could increase life expectancy, the expectation to expand opportunities in late adulthood and retirement prompt many early and middle adulthood persons to expound on the list physical, mental, emotional, and social goals. Healthy biosocial factors contribute to satisfaction in the workplace, lower stress levels, and help balance social relationships (Reeve, 2009). Whereas the innate need to develop relationships is influenced by transitions from early to middle adulthood, it is dynamic interaction that signifies that positive relationships are a necessary source of good self-esteem, happiness, good health, and constructive development (Berger, 2010).
The transition from early to middle adulthood requires the resilience to maintain a positive attitude, good physical health, and encouraging life choices despite a possible feeling of ambivalence without awareness of mortality. Unlike the general delineation of adolescence by puberty, the early and middle stages of adulthood are defined by more subtle physical changes but the choices, concerns, and adjustments are significant to psychosocial development. Development is dynamic and the changes encountered throughout the early and middle adulthood stages require the resilient adaptability inherent in humans. This paper has expounded on the evolution of social and intimate relationships during this period and identified the various role changes experienced. Additionally, a brief examination of the immediate and future effect of healthy and unhealthy habits practiced was provided.
Berger, K. S. (2010). Invitation to the life span. New York, NY: Worth Publishers. DeVito, J. A. (2009). The interpersonal communication book (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon. Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.