Breaking the Cycle: Mentalizing Moderates and Mediates the Link Between Childhood Sexual Abuse and Satisfaction With Adult Romantic Relationships

Dana Lassri*, Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a significant risk factor with consistently demonstrated negative implications for satisfaction with adult romantic relationships. Yet, research on risk and protective factors in this context is scarce, particularly amongwell-functioning adults. Objective: Addressing this gap, the present study focused on the potential mediating and moderating roles ofmentalizing or reflective functioning, i.e., the capacity to understand oneself and others in terms of intentional mental states. We investigatedwhether impairments in mentalizing underlie the association between CSA and relationship satisfaction and whether robust mentalizing can buffer the CSA-relationship satisfaction link. Method: A sample of 667 individuals engaged in a meaningful romantic relationship was drawn from a larger sample obtained in an online convenience survey. A mediation and moderation model was examined using PROCESS. Results: The results confirmed our integrativemodel—the association between CSA and satisfaction with romantic relationshipswasmediated by impairments in mentalizing (uncertainty about mental states) and was simultaneously moderated by robust mentalizing (certainty about mental states). These effects were shown even when controlling for age, gender, education, and psychopathological symptoms. Conclusions: These findings highlight the importance of mentalizing, a key transdiagnostic factor. Reduced mentalizing is a risk factor for harmful impact of CSA on romantic relationships, while greater mentalizing abilities can be a significant resilience factor protecting CSA survivors. This study supports the potential contribution of mentalization-based interventions with survivors of CSA at risk for dissatisfaction with romantic relationships.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 American Psychological Association


  • child sexual abuse
  • mentalizing
  • reflective functioning
  • resilience
  • romantic relationship satisfaction


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