Couple Relationship Quality and Children’s Behavior in Married and Cohabiting Families

Julia S. Goldberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Marcia J. Carlson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Family systems theory posits that a high-quality couple relationship is important for promoting children’s wellbeing. In this paper, we use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine how couple supportiveness in married and cohabiting families is related to trajectories of children’s internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems throughout early and middle childhood. Using latent growth curve models, we find that parents’ greater supportiveness is associated with lower levels of children’s behavioral problems in both married and cohabiting families. We also employ cross-lagged structural equation models to examine the direction of this association and find that while children’s behavior problems have a small effect on the quality of parents’ relationships, parents’ relationships have a much larger effect on children’s behavior problems. Overall, our study suggests that positive couple interactions, rather than the mere absence of negative interactions, are beneficial for children residing with both of their biological parents.

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Presented in Session 145: Families and Well-Being