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Why does stress in relationships affect parenting?

August 25, 2016
stressed woman holding her hands to her face(CC BY-NC 2.0 photo / Flickr user michaelclesle)
Photo of Melissa Sturge-Apple

Melissa Sturge-Apple

Photo of Patrick Davies

Patrick Davies

Estimates suggest that 20 to 40 percent of parents who live together experience significant levels of distress in their relationships. And research shows that when parents have difficulties in their relationship it affects parenting. University of Rochester psychologists and Mt. Hope Family Center researchers Melissa Sturge-Apple and Patrick Davies will explore why that happens thanks to a $2.9 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The grant will fund research to identify how conflict between parents spills over to influence interactions within the parent-child system.

“Conflict between partners is a normal occurrence in relationships, but conflicts that are overly aggressive, hostile, and prolonged make it more difficult for partners to be effective parents” says Sturge-Apple, who also serves as the dean of graduate studies in Arts, Sciences and Engineering. “If we can begin to understand why this happens, then we may have new avenues for interventions helping families experiencing problems.”

The investigation will be conducted at the University’s Mt. Hope Family Center, which has a track record of supporting multifaceted longitudinal studies of high-risk families. The study will focus on parents and their three- to four year-old children over a three-year period. According to Davies, “Early childhood is a critical stage for understanding how couple relationship conflict trickles down to impact parenting and ultimately family and child functioning.”

The researchers aim to document the physiological, cognitive, and emotional processes which may link couple conflict with parenting difficulties and provide targets for clinical interventions and policy initiative designed to improve interparental relationships and family functioning.

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Category: Society & Culture