Romantic Relationships and Criminal Desistance: Pathways and Processes

Jessica J.B. Wyse, David J. Harding, Jeffrey D. Morenoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Scopus citations


In dominant theories of criminal desistance, marital relationship formation is understood to be a key "turning point" away from deviant behavior. Empirical studies supporting this claim have largely focused on the positive role of marriage in men's desistance from crime, and relatively few studies have examined the role that nonmarital relationships may play in desistance. Drawing on 138 longitudinal in-depth interviews with 22 men and women reentering society from prison, this article extends the scope of desistance research by additionally considering the significance of more fleeting and fluid relationships, and the diverse processes through which romantic relationships of all sorts are linked with criminal behaviors. We present an empirically based typology detailing six processes, grouped within three conceptual categories, through which romantic relationships had their effects. These pathways include material circumstances, social bonds and interactions, and emotional supports and stressors. We also consider gender differences in these processes. While more tenuous bonds to marginally conventional partners would seem to exert little effect, as one of the few relationships and social roles available to many former prisoners, we found that they wielded important influence, if not always in a positive direction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-385
Number of pages21
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Criminal desistance
  • Emotional support
  • Prisoner reentry
  • Romantic relationships
  • Social bonds
  • Social control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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