Marital hostility, adolescents’ responses to marital conflict, and adolescents’ adjustment: the moderating role of cooperative marital conflict

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Nan Zhou (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Cheryl Buehler

Abstract: Marital hostility is a salient risk factor for adolescents’ well-being, academic performance, and social functioning. In contrast to the substantial body of research focusing on the effects of marital hostility on adolescents’ development, few studies have examined a positive conflict process (i.e., cooperative marital conflict) and how it operates in conjunction with marital hostility to shape youth adjustment during early adolescence. Furthermore, the generative mechanisms through which cooperative marital conflict and marital hostility are associated with youth adjustment are not well understood. To fill this gap, the present study examined the longitudinal associations between marital hostility, cooperative marital conflict, and increases in early adolescents’ adjustment problems based on three annual waves of data from a community-based sample of 366 two-parent families residing in a Southeastern state within the US. In particular, cognitive-contextual theory, emotion security theory, and a risk and resilience perspective were used to deduce the potential mechanisms through which marital hostility interacted with cooperative marital conflict in the prediction of youth responses to marital conflict over time and increases in youth adjustment problems. Gender differences also were examined. Several important findings emerged. Cooperative marital conflict and the sub-dimensions of cooperative marital conflict (i.e., constructive problem solving, marital warmth, and effective conflict resolution) did not moderate the association between marital hostility and increases in youth internalizing and externalizing problems over time. Cooperative marital conflict, in general, and marital warmth and effective conflict resolution, in particular, buffered the negative impact of marital hostility on adolescent girls’ lower cognitive representations of the family. Unexpectedly, marital hostility was associated with boys’ self-blame only when their parents demonstrated higher levels of cooperative marital conflict and constructive problem solving. These findings highlight the importance of examining adolescents’ responses to marital conflict in the context of cooperative marital conflict processes. Results also emphasize the importance of examining proximal cognitive, emotional, and behavioral reactions to marital conflict in relation to marital hostility and cooperative marital conflict than is more distal problem behavior. Results suggest that the positive emotional atmosphere and the resolution state cues might imply to youth positive, sympathetic, and harmonious representations of the marital and family relationships, which ultimately could help reduce the weakening, disrupted representations constructed from hostile marital interactions. That significant buffering effects of marital warmth and effective conflict resolution are relevant for girls supported the communal hypothesis. Girls are more likely to emphasize communal goals or interpersonal connectedness and therefore girls might be more likely to detect the positive cues during the conflict processes and are able to reduce negative representations as a result. Results also contribute to theory development by providing evidence for the distinctness of cooperative marital conflict and marital hostility and their interactive effects on youth responses to marital conflict. Given the prominent pathological effects of marital hostility on a wide range of youth adjustment outcomes, future studies should continue to examine the buffering effects of cooperative marital conflict in the presence of marital hostility for other aspects of youth development and across different groups of families and youth.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
Adolescents adjustment, Conflict resolution, Marital hostility, Marital warmth, Problem Solving, Youth responses to marital conflict
Marital conflict
Hostility (Psychology)
Conflict management
Families $x Psychological aspects
Adjustment (Psychology) in adolescence
Youth development

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