Long-term Effects of Conflict on Children

Today’s parents are embracing the mindset of “staying together for the kids” out of a desire to protect their children from the pain of divorce. But parents must also protect their children by preventing conflict. Parental conflict, regardless of divorce, can have a long term effect on children, including an increased the likelihood that children will experience relationship failure and divorce themselves.

Research shows that the highest occurrence of divorce is among those whose parents were classified as having high conflict relationship and who also divorced. The second highest divorce rate was found among adult children whose parents did not divorce, but were classified as having a high conflict relationship. The second lowest divorce rate was found among adult children whose parents divorced, but had a low conflict relationship. The lowest rate of divorce was found among the adult children whose parents remained married and had a low conflict relationship. If it was only divorce that harmed children, instead of the level of conflict between parents, then the rate of low conflict parents who divorce should produce higher rates of adult child divorce than the high conflict parents who stayed together.

As explained in the study, children learn by observing the behaviors of their parents, and they grow up to model the conflict style of their parents. Marital conflict style is a factor in divorce.  Children who observe high amounts of parent conflict, especially when the conflict is not resolved, develop poor communication and conflict resolution skills themselves, resulting in a higher likelihood that their future marriages will fail. Conversely, children who observe their parents communicating positively and resolving conflict are more likely to have better relationship skills and greater likelihood of successful future marriages. Even though children still observe some conflict, the act of seeing their parents effectively resolve conflict teaches children positive relationship behaviors.

A couple’s ability to resolve conflict is not only determinative of whether their marriage will survive, but also whether their children will be more likely to have a successful marriage. Marital mediation teaches couples the necessary communication skills they need to resolve conflict. For example, couples will learn techniques such as reframing, expressing interests and needs, and how to use active listening. This allows couples to solve the problems they are facing today and to minimize conflict in the future.

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