Marital Tension Spreads to Kids

By Lang, Susan S. | Human Ecology Forum, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Marital Tension Spreads to Kids


Lang, Susan S., Human Ecology Forum


On days that parents bicker, both mothers and fathers are much more likely to also have tense days with their children, according to a new Cornell University/University of Arizona study.

And although mothers, in general, have conflicts with their children about 40 percent more often than fathers do, fathers are twice as likely as mothers to argue with their kids on days they argue with their wives than on other days.

"Whether mothers work full time or not, however, seems to be key as to whether fathers experience a lot of so-called tension spillover from the marriage to the children," says Elaine Wethington, associate professor of human development and family studies. "In families where mothers were employed full time, we found that fathers were twice as likely to experience tension spillover compared with families in which mothers did not work full time."

Wethington and David Almeida, professor of family studies at the University of Arizona, analyzed the tension and stress entries in diaries kept for six weeks by 113 white married fathers and mothers living near Detroit. Their goal was to determine whether parents are more likely to have tense interactions with their children on days they experience conflict with their spouses.

Whereas previous studies on tension spillover have compared families, this study is the first to examine tension spillover within families for any length of time.

Specifically, the researchers found that during the 42-day period

* Couples, on average, reported marital tension more than 5 percent of the days studied. …

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