Strengthening Couple Relationships for Optimal Child Development: Lessons from Research and Intervention

Article excerpt

Strengthening Couple Relationships for Optimal Child Development: Lessons from Research and Intervention. Marc S. Schulz, Marsha Kline Pruett, Patricia K. Kerig, & Ross D. Parke (Eds.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 2010. 244 pp. ISBN 1433805472. $79.95 (cloth).

Promoting strong families and optimizing positive development for children are paramount concerns in our society. Parents, researchers, clinicians, and policymakers work to understand and create environments that foster well-being, security, and achievement in children. We often fail, however, to emphasize in our efforts a context that for decades has been shown to be of fundamental importance to children's development, that is, the quality of parents' relationships with each other. Strengthening Couple Relationships for Optimal Child Development: Lessons from Research and Intervention focuses a lens on the profound impact that parents' relationships have on developing families and children. The editors of this volume (Marc Schulz, Marsha Kline Pruett, Patricia Kerig, and Ross Parke), together with prominent scholars in the fields of child development, couples research, family studies, and clinical intervention (including Bradbury, Conger, Cowan and Cowan, Cummings, Gottman, Levenson, and McHaIe, among others), articulate the ways in which couples' relationships enhance or compromise functioning in families and provide strategies for promoting optimal outcomes, particularly for children.

The initial chapter, written by the book's editors, documents the historical path of couple and family research, including the shift from independent to interdependent models of family functioning. The remainder of the book comprises three parts.

Part 1 (Chapters 2-5) highlights the implications of the quality of couple relationships for other dyads and individuals in the family. Chapter 2 includes a review of emotional security theory (EST) as a conceptual model for understanding the processes underlying the impact of marital conflict on children. The authors discuss specific aspects of EST that hold particular relevance for designing prevention and intervention programs, including their own psychoeducational program, to lessen the negative effects of parents' disputes for children. Parents' conflict, whether they handle it well or poorly, affects even very young children. The authors of Chapter 3 provide evidence to support a compelling technique for overcoming some of the methodological challenges of assessing how preschool-aged children perceive and process marital conflict, the Berkeley Puppet Interview. Chapter 4 examines ways in which marital relationship processes interrelate with parent- child and whole family relationships. The authors provide an insightful look into the construct of boundary dissolution and its implications for families and children of distressed couples. Chapter 5 provides a summary of the development of the construct of coparenting and highlights key findings that underscore its importance for children's care and upbringing. The author emphasizes the need to promote and support positive coparenting alliances in nuclear, fragile, and extended-kin family systems.

Part 2 (Chapters 6-9) is concerned with the key domains and determinants of couple functioning and the promise of advances in methodology and statistical techniques for addressing more complex questions about the nature of effects and processes involved. Chapter 6 considers martial satisfaction across the transition to parenthood. The authors review research on group differences as well as findings from promising recent work considering trajectories of change, and they provide recommendations for future research, including continued focus on predictors of change and processes that might be amendable to intervention. The authors of Chapter 7 propose and provide partial validation for an integrative, developmental model for understanding how relationship quality changes during the transition to parenthood. …