Beating a Legacy of Marital Failure
Reaping What Was Sown
Parent role vs. partner role continued...
All the subjects had parents who were married at the time of
the study (although some parents split up later), so that marital relationships
could be observed, as well as parent-child relationships.
"The proposition is that young adults emulate the behaviors
they see their parents demonstrate in their romantic relationships," Conger
writes in a report of his research, published in the August 2000 issue of the
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. "In research on
divorce, there has been no direct evidence of this observational learning
Conger's team conducted in-house interviews annually for four
years, beginning when the children were in seventh grade. They gleaned
information on the interactions between the subjects and their parents,
subjects and the siblings, and the parents as spouses. Then, when the subjects
were about age 20, they videotaped them with their romantic partners. The
subjects also gave their own evaluations of the relationships with their
parents and with their romantic partners.
What they found: Teens who grew up with parents
who were supportive and warm tended to develop similar relationships with their
romantic partners when they got older. But those who grew up in families who
were not supportive and warm tended to have unhappy romantic relationships as
adults. "Contrary to our expectations, observing their parents' marital
relationship was not that important," Conger says.
This suggests to Conger that children who grow up in
supportive, warm, single-parent families may do just as well as those from
warm, supportive two-parent families when they seek out romantic relationships
as young adults.
Of course, if you are an unhappy spouse, it might affect your
parenting, he points out. "If
parents are angry and fight with each other, that may spill over into their
parenting. As long as you can maintain an effective role as a parent, you can
mitigate the effects of a bad marriage on your child."
Low-conflict vs. high-conflict homes
Other researchers have been studying types of divorce and their
effects on children's well-being, as well as the children's ability to form
satisfying relationships later in life.