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Links between marital and parent–child interactions: Moderating role of husband-to-wife aggression

  • GAYLA MARGOLIN (a1), ELANA B. GORDIS (a1) and PAMELLA H. OLIVER (a2)
Abstract

The present study examined how marital conflict may compromise parenting by identifying interdependencies across marital and parent–child subsystems in a sample of 86 two-parent families with a child aged 9–13. The study used direct observation of three family discussions to examine interdependencies across family subsystems. The study also assessed whether a history of husband-to-wife aggression strengthened interdependencies. Overall, families with husband-to-wife aggression showed a negative tone that pervaded throughout the family. Consistent with theories about physically aggressive men tending to withdraw from conflict, fathers who had engaged in husband-to-wife aggression showed an association between marital hostilities and lower levels of empathy toward their children. Consistent with stress theories, women who had been exposed to husband-to-wife aggression showed a link between marital hostilities and negative affect when interacting with their children. These findings illustrate how a history of exposure to marital aggression can create a family environment of multiple risks for children. For children in families with prior marital aggression, ongoing marital hostilities can be linked to the additional risk of erosions in parental support.This study was partially supported by a grant from the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, NIMH Grants R01MH36595 and F31MH10947, NICHD Grant K23HD041428, and a California State University, Fullerton, Junior Faculty Research Grant. We are grateful to our USC Family Studies Center colleagues who helped collect these data, to the dedicated groups of coders, and to the families who participated in the study.

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Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Gayla Margolin, Department of Psychology, SGM 930, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061; E-mail: margolin@usc.edu.
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