Academic journal article Family Relations

Hostile Interparental Conflict and Youth Maladjustment

Academic journal article Family Relations

Hostile Interparental Conflict and Youth Maladjustment

Article excerpt

Key words: coparental relationship, marital conflict, marital hostility, youth maladjustment.

Frequent and/or intense hostile conflict between parents often is associated with a range of indicators of youth maladjustment, including externalizing problems, internalizing problems, and poor academic performance (see Fauber, Forehand, Thomas, & Wierson, 1990; Grych, Seid, & Fincham, 1992; Guidubaldi, Cleminshaw, Perry, Nastasi, & Lightel, 1986; Katz & Gottman, 1993; Tschann, Johnston, Kline, & Wallerstein, 1989). To the contrary, interparental disagreement, controlling for a hostile conflict style, seems to be unrelated to or only weakly related to youth maladjustment (Buehler & Trotter, 1990).

Accordingly, this article addresses the question "How does a hostile interparental conflict style affect youth maladjustment?" Relevant literature is organized into three different types of explanations: direct effects, mediating effects, and moderating effects. Practice implications for each explanation are discussed, and we conclude with general suggestions for future research.

Youth maladjustment is defined as the relative inability of youth to engage successfully and appropriately in interpersonal relationships and in work, play, and academic activities over time with relative freedom from noxious social behaviors and burdensome emotions (Trotter, 1989). This definition is focused on the youth's ability to match emotional and behavioral responses to demands across time, people, and settings (Lorian, Cowen, & Caldwell, 1975). Maladjustment is a multidimensional construct, but we limit the discussion to three dimensions: externalizing behavior problems (e.g., aggression, hyperactivity, delinquency), internalizing behavior problems (e.g., depression, anxiety, withdrawal), and academic failure. These three dimensions of maladjustment were selected because they are important youth outcomes and generally seem to be influenced by hostile interparental conflict (Fauber et al., 1990; Guidubaldi et al., 1986).

The concept of interparental conflict is broad and has been used in different ways by various researchers. Many researchers have not distinguished between conflict and conflict management strategies/styles. This distinction is important empirically and in practice (Cummings & Davies, 1994). Accordingly, we define interparental conflict as disagreements between parents about various issues in family life.

In terms of conflict management, four styles of behaviors are overt hostile strategies (verbal and physical), covert hostile strategies, cooperative strategies, and avoidant strategies (Ahrons, 1981; Buehler & Trotter, 1990; Camara & Resnick, 1988). Each of these styles may have at least six subdimensions: frequency, intensity, mode of expression, chronicity, content, and degree of resolution (Cummings, Simpson, & Wilson, 1993; Fincham & Osborne, 1993; Grych & Fincham, 1990). A thorough review of the literature on the effects of interparental conflict and youth maladjustment should consider each of these subdimensions of conflict management strategies. We attempt to be sensitive to these distinctions by noting differential effects when possible. However, most researchers have not distinguished among these subdimensions--most focus on frequency--and therefore the data are limited or unavailable.

Germane to this review, interparental disagreements about child-rearing issues seem to be only weakly related to youth maladjustment (Buehler & Trotter, 1990), and very few studies have examined the effects of either covert, cooperative, or avoidant styles of conflict management on youth maladjustment (for exceptions, see Camara & Resnick, 1988; Tschann et al., 1989). Thus, to examine explanations of how interparental conflict affects youth maladjustment, we focus on overt hostile conflict styles between parents. Overt hostile behaviors include yelling, screaming, threatening, slapping, and hitting. …

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