Does disruptive child behavior cause interparental discord? An experimental manipulation
Wymbs, Brian Thomas
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Researchers have long contended that a reciprocal relationship exists between interparental conflict and child externalizing behavior. While studies have experimentally manipulated marital quality in order to demonstrate that interparental conflict causes disruptive child behavior, no studies have experimentally manipulated child behavior and examined whether parents interacting with disruptive children are more likely to engage in interparental conflict. Using components of a well-validated laboratory paradigm, this study sought to: (1) determine whether child misbehavior indeed causes interparental discord, (2) assess whether child behavior influences the quality of interparental communication uniquely while accounting for evidence-based parent and couple risk factors of marital conflict, and (3) examine whether parenting practices and parental affective distress mediate the relationship between child behavior and interparental relationship quality. Between-group analyses indicate that disruptive child behavior exacerbated reports of interparental discord across informants and settings. Multilevel prediction analyses suggest that disruptive child behavior is a unique predictor of parent-reported discordant interparental relations even when accounting for several parent and couple risk factors. Multilevel mediation analyses indicated that positive and negative parenting mediate the association between child behavior and parent-reported positive and negative communication, while changes in negative affect mediate the association between child behavior and parent-reported negative communication. Clinical implications of child effects on marital relations, particularly among parents of children with chronic externalizing disorders (e.g., ADHD), are discussed.