The Interplay of Parental Marital Conflict and Divorce in Young Adult Children's Relationships with Parents and Romantic Partners
Type of DegreeDissertation
Human Development and Family Studies
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A substantial body of literature has documented the effects of parental divorce and marital conflict on adult children’s interpersonal relationships with parents and romantic partners. However, few studies have tested the interaction between parents’ marital conflict and divorce, and even fewer have considered interpersonal relationship quality as outcomes. The present study builds on previous research by examining both main effect and interactive models of the relations between parental marital conflict, divorce, and young adults’ interpersonal relationships with mothers, fathers, and romantic partners. This study also examines the role of child’s gender as a factor in the interplay of parental marital conflict and divorce in adult children’s relationships with parents and romantic partners. Data were drawn from the Child Development Project, a prospective longitudinal study of a community sample of children and their families (N = 585) who were initially recruited the summer before the children’s entry into kindergarten, with follow-up assessments conducted annually through age 25. Parental marital conflict and parental divorce were measured from childhood through adolescence. The measures of mother-child and father-child relationships during the young adulthood included closeness-support, conflict-control, and perceived filial self-efficacy. The measures of young adults’ romantic relationships included relationship quality, relationship insecurity, and perceived relationship self-efficacy. Results indicate that both growing up with parents who had chronic conflict in their marital relationships and experience of parental divorce were associated with multiple problematic outcomes for young adult offspring’s relationships with parents and romantic partners. Divorce was also found to moderate the links between marital conflict and subsequent negativity in mother-adult child relationships, with the estimated effects of marital conflict being more detrimental in the families in which parents remain married than in the families in which parents divorced later. This moderation effect was stronger for females than for males. Results of the present study generally support the assumption that parental divorce may ameliorate some of the negative effects of marital conflict on children’s adjustment by removing children from dysfunctional, conflict-ridden families. On the other hand, divorce still appears to be associated with less closeness and support between fathers and adult children and with lower quality and higher insecurity in children’s romantic relationships, even beyond the effects of marital conflict.