Family Concerns - Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D.

How The Marriage/Couple Relationship Affects The Children

How The Marriage/Couple Relationship Affects The Children How The Parents' Relationship Affects The Children It surprises me, how in both the professional and popular literature, how little attention is payed to the critical link between children's adjustment and the quality of their parents' relationship. Below are some key points to keep in mind about this important connection.

  1. The quality of the marital/couple relationship greatly affects the stability, continuity, and support that the family can provide for the child and this is related to children's emotional development.
  2. The quality of the marital relationship also affects the quality of the relationship between siblings. When there is high marital discord, there is more aggression between siblings.
  3. There is also evidence that the quality of the marital relationship affects aggression with peers. For some children, sometimes this level of distress manifests itself as aggression and violence. The point is that the marital relationship has pervasive effects for children and families. These effects can be positive if the marital relationship is doing well.
  4. Destructive conflict in marriages/couple relationships is linked to children's aggression, anxiety, emotional insecurity, depression, difficulty in school, and peer relationship problems. When children see destructive conflict between their parents, they become distressed, sad, angry, and fearful.
  5. For productive conflict (e.g., calm discussion), there are virtually no negative effects. When children observe productive conflict, they don't report being upset, but neither do they report being as uplifted. For constructive conflict resolved through compromise), the great news is there is not only a lack of negative effects but also positive effects. While this is a new direction in research, there is emerging evidence that constructive conflict in marriages is linked to social competence and emotional security. When children see constructive conflict occurring, they even report feeling happy about the situation.
  6. Parents who are jealous, moody, inclined to fly off the handle, critical and prone to dominate their spouse have a far worse effect on their children's marriage than does parental divorce or poor parent-child relations, according to a Penn State study. "The dark side of their parents' marriages, not their marital harmony, impacts all aspects of offspring's marriages, including the degree of matrimonial happiness or conflict, thinking about divorce or shared activities such as eating main meals and working on projects around the house," says Dr. Alan Booth, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Human Development.
Sources Booth and Amato "The Legacy of Parents' Marital Discord: Consequences for Children's Marital Quality," October issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Colin, V. (1996). Human attachment. New York: McGraw-Hill. Cowan, P. A., & Cowan, C. P. (1999). What an intervention design reveals about how parents affect their children's academic achievement and social competence. Paper presented at the Symposium of Parenting and the Child's World: Multiple Influences on Intellectual and Social-Emotional Development sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Bethesda, MD. Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. (1994). Children and marital conflict: The impact of family dispute and resolution. New York: Guilford Press. National Institute of Mental Health
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