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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 romantic partners.

Maurer does see some limitations to the Conger study: "It's a huge inference to say these subjects would remain together for years."

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.

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