Beating a Legacy of Marital Failure
Reaping What Was Sown
A clinician weighs in
Despite the research, Robert Maurer, PhD, a psychologist at
Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, who often counsels divorcing couples with
children, isn't convinced that parents' marital behavior can be ruled out as a
blueprint for their offspring.
"When your partner walks in," Maurer often asks married
couples he counsels, "does your face light up, or does your look say the
warden has just come onto the cellblock?" He tells them their children
can't help but notice these interactions and form some opinions about their own
goals for a romantic relationship when they become adults.
Still, Maurer says, the research done by Conger does send an
optimistic message to some parents that all is not lost if a divorce is
inevitable. Divorcing parents might consider continuing counseling sessions
together even after the divorce is final, Maurer tells WebMD, to work on their
parenting skills. He sees some divorced couples who continue seeking his advice
so they can be effective parents together, even though they are no longer
Maurer does see some limitations to the Conger study: "It's
a huge inference to say these subjects would remain together for
The average age of the subjects during the 1997 interviews by
Conger's group was 20. Conger is working to overcome that limitation. In his
next study, he says he will continue tracking those young adults, to see how
they fare with their partners.
Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based health journalist and
regular contributor to WebMD. Her work also appears in the Los Angeles
Times, Shape, Modern Maturity, and other publications.