Marital conflicts don't just affect parents but also weaken their bond with their children, a new study finds.
Many studies have highlighted that children often face the brunt of conflicts between their parents. Such children tend to have behavioral and health problems. Throwing more light on this subject, a new study found that marital conflicts have other negative consequences too.
Researchers from Southern Methodist University found that when parents fight, not only do they deteriorate their relationship with each other but also weaken the bond they share with their children. The study was conducted on 203 families. All family members were asked to make diary entries daily for 15 days. Parents were asked to make note of their relationship quality and also the bond their share with their kid.
On reviewing these entries, researchers found that the days parents reported conflict or tension in their relationship with each other, the interaction and bonding they shared with their child seemed to deteriorate. The researchers also found that when parents were having marital problems, mothers were more open to compartmentalize the problems they were having in their marriage by the next day.
"In fact, in that situation, moms appeared to compensate for their marital tension," lead author Chrystyna D. Kouros said in a press statement. "Poor marital quality actually predicted an improvement in the relationship between the mom and the child. So, the first day's adverse spillover is short lived for moms."
However, no such observations were made among fathers.
"In families where the mom was showing signs of depression, dads on the other hand let the marital tension spill over, with the result being poorer interactions with their child, even on the next day," she said.
The study clearly indicates that marital conflicts affect the family as a whole and not just the parents.
We see from the findings that the marriage is a hub relationship for the family," the study author said. "The quality of that relationship spills over into each parent's interactions with the child. So if mom and dad are fighting, it will show up initially -- and in some cases on the second day -- in a poorer quality relationship with their kids."
Previous studies have also examined the effects of marital conflict on children. One study found that witnessing hostile and aggressive fighting between parents increases cardiac stress in children, similar to adults, and significantly increases the levels of cortisol in their body.
Another study found that children who grow up witnessing such aggression between their parents do not become accustomed to this fighting but instead become more sensitive to it. Such children may also complain of repeated nightmares and also several physical symptoms without an underlying illness, such as unexplained stomachaches or headaches.
Children witnessing unhealthy communication patterns between their parents grow up with a misunderstanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. They are very likely to repeat the same mistakes they grew up watching in their own adult relationships and continue the pattern of teaching their children unhealthy communication styles as well.
The research was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of the National Institutes of Health.