Patterns of Marital Conflict Predict Children's Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors

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Results are reported of a longitudinal study on how marital interaction affects children. Observational assessments of marital interaction during conflict resolution obtained when children were 5 years old predicted teachers' ratings of internalizing and externalizing behaviors when the children were 8 years old. Two distinct and uncorrelated marital interaction patterns were related to specific forms of child outcomes. The Mutually Hostile pattern, which correlated with later marital dissolution, also predicted externalizing behavior patterns in children 3 years later. The Husband Angry and Withdrawn pattern predicted child internalizing behaviors. Marital satisfaction and child temperament did not relate to child outcomes, nor did they interact with marital patterns to produce deficits in child adjustment. The findings suggest that the specific behaviors couples use when resolving marital disputes may contribute differentially to the presence of externalizing and internalizing behavior patterns in children.

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