Are There Individual and Sibling Differences in Appraisals of Interparental Conflict?

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Abstract

Despite decades of empirical literature documenting the harmful effects of frequent, intense, violent, and unresolved interparental conflict on children’s adjustment, there is considerable variability in the extent to which marital conflict contributes to the development of children’s emotional and behavioral problems. Past research has documented links between properties of interparental conflict itself (e.g., intensity, frequency), children’s appraisals of conflict, and children’s outcomes, yet less is known about the role of individual and family characteristics in predicting children’s conflict appraisals. Sibling studies may be especially helpful in understanding these individual differences yet are notably lacking in marital conflict research. The current study examines individual- and family-characteristic predictors of adolescents’ appraisals of conflict in a study of 153 adolescents as well as sibling similarities in conflict appraisals in a subsample of 50 pairs of siblings. Controlling for parent reports of the frequency, intensity, and resolution of interparental conflict, parent–child relationship quality and stressful life events predicted conflict appraisals. In addition, there was nonindependence of sibling appraisals of conflict properties, but self-blame and threat appraisals appeared independent across siblings. Greater discrepancies in siblings’ conflict appraisals were related to more negative marital conflict and discrepancies in parent–child relationship quality, and were found in mixed-sex sibling dyads. Implications for future studies on factors that impact children’s appraisals of conflict and in particular making use of sibling studies to examine shared environmental and individual influences on appraisals is highlighted.

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