Effects of marital conflict on children: recent advances and emerging themes in process-oriented research

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2002 Jan;43(1):31-63. doi: 10.1111/1469-7610.00003.


Background: The effects of marital conflict on children's adjustment are well documented. For the past decade research has increasingly focused on advancing a process-level understanding of these effects, that is, accounting for the particular responses and patterns embedded within specific contexts, histories, and developmental periods that account for children's outcomes over time.

Methods: As a vehicle for presenting an update, this review follows the framework for process-oriented research initially proposed by Cummings and Cummings (1988), concentrating on recent research developments, and also considering new and emerging themes in this area of research.

Results: In this regard, areas of advancement include (a) greater articulation of the effects of specific context/stimulus characteristics of marital conflict, (b) progress in identifying the psychological response processes in children (e.g., cognitive, emotional, social, physiological) that are affected and their possible role in accounting for relations between marital conflict and child outcomes, (c) greater understanding of the role of child characteristics, family history, and other contextual factors, including effects on children due to interrelations between marital conflict and parenting, and (d) advances in the conceptualization of children's outcomes, including that effects may be more productively viewed as dynamic processes of functioning rather than simply clinical diagnoses.

Conclusions: Understanding of the impact of marital conflict on children as a function of time-related processes remains a gap in a process-oriented conceptualization of effects. Based on this review, a revised model for a process-oriented approach on the effects of marital discord on children is proposed and suggestions are made for future research directions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Child
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Culture
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting
  • Sibling Relations
  • Social Behavior
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology