Within-Family Processes: Interparental and Coparenting Conflict and Child Adjustment

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Previous studies have found evidence that interparental conflict, parents’ coparenting behavior, and children’s adjustment are reciprocally related. Most prior research, however, has failed to empirically distinguish between-family differences from within-family changes, limiting our understanding of how within-family fluctuations in each construct may be interrelated over time. In the present study, we focused on within-family associations among interparental conflict factors (i.e., verbal aggression and withdrawing), coparenting conflict, and children’s internalizing and externalizing problems. Longitudinal data were drawn from 5 annual waves of survey data from 537 German families (i.e., mothers, fathers, and a focal child) in the German Family Panel (pairfam) study (Brüderl et al., 2015; Huinink et al., 2011). Data were analyzed with random intercept cross-lagged panel models, which partition variance into between- and within-person (or family) components in longitudinal data. Cross-lagged analyses of within-family variance revealed that fluctuations in interparental conflict did not predict child problems, but higher than typical child externalizing problems increased fathers’ withdrawal and coparenting conflict in the future. Higher than average coparenting conflict within a given family predicted reductions in interparental verbal aggression, less maternal withdrawal, and fewer child externalizing problems. The findings demonstrate that analyses of within-family associations may provide new insights on mutual influences that unfold across time within families and are of particular importance for informing practice.

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