When marital discord settlers into a household, it doesn't just hit the spousal relationship. It has lots of fallout on parenting, too. The effect, says a team of Berkeley researchers, depends on gender--both of the parent and of the child. And that may explain how marital dysfunction can be handed from generation to generation--sons seem to learn it at their mother's knees.
Unhappily married moms develop a special emotional synchrony with sons. When their sons voice negative feelings, the mothers are likely to reciprocate.
In effect, report Patricia K. Kerig, Ph.D., and colleagues, such boys are learning "negative reciprocity." Partners trade insult for insult. So hurtful is this interaction that it predicts which couples will divorce.
Boys socialized into this response pattern by their distressed mothers may carry it into their own adult relationships, deploying it whenever their own wives voice any negative feelings-setting off a downward spiral of re-activity that wounds both partners.
If boys can carry the seeds of marital disruption into the next generation, girls suffer consequences of parental marital distress here and now. Difficulty in the husband-wife relationship spells particular trouble for the father-daughter relationship, reports the team in Developmental Psychology.
That's because fathers transfer disappointment in a marriage onto a female child. The less satisfying their marriage, the more negative fathers are toward their daughters--who, in turn, are more sassy toward them.
Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at MetroSexual LA