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Beating a Legacy of Marital Failure

Reaping What Was Sown
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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 process."

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.

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