parenting partnerships

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Parenting Partnerships: 

Parenting Partnerships Thomas Bradbury University of California, Los Angeles Strengthening Family Relationships 4 December 2003

Couple 1289/1290: 

Couple 1289/1290 EC 1039 DOB 1319 Husband Wife

Meeting the Challenge: 

Meeting the Challenge Strong emphasis on interpersonal processes generally, and problem-solving specifically, in families… … in our theories, our studies, our interventions, and our policies. What can we learn from a deeper analysis of couple processes, and from a broader consideration of forces operating on families?


Collaborators Rebecca Cobb Joanne Davila Matthew Johnson Erika Lawrence Ron Rogge Lisa Story Catherine Cohan Kate Fish Benjamin Karney Lauri Pasch Alexia Rothman Kieran Sullivan Funding Sources NICHD, NIMH, NSF, JTF

I. Couple Processes and Change: 

I. Couple Processes and Change A puzzle! Difficult to ignore, theoretically. Difficult to ignore, practically. Difficult to establish, empirically.

Illustrating the point: 

Illustrating the point Filsinger and Thoma 1988. n = 21 Positive reciprocation is detrimental. Gottman and Krokoff 1989. n = 39 Positive verbal codes are harmful. Conflict engagement is beneficial. Karney and Bradbury 1997. n = 56 Negative behaviors slow declines. Kiecolt-Glaser et al. 2003. n = 90 Stress hormones trump behavior.

Why the cloudy view?: 

Why the cloudy view? Small, heterogeneous samples Weak estimates of change Incomplete sampling of … A Positive Affect B Support C Physical Aggression

A: Positive Affect: 

A: Positive Affect 172 newlywed couples, first marriages Problem-solving discussions Positive, negative affect Positive, negative skills Dependent Variable: Slope, or rate of change in satisfaction over 4 years.

Observational Coding: 

Observational Coding Affect: Gottman’s SPAFF PA: Humor, Affection, Interest NA: Anger, Contempt Skills: Hahlweg et al.’s KPI PS: Disclosure, Positive Solution, Accept Other, Agreement NS: Criticize, Negative Solution, Justification, Disagreement


Wife’s Behavior  Husband’s Slope

Key Point?: 

Key Point? Couples low in positive skills and high in negative skills will experience faster declines in marital quality … But only when expressions of humor, interest, and affection are relatively rare. Poor skills are not uniformly detrimental.

B: Social Support: 

B: Social Support 60 newlywed couples, first marriages. 15-min problem-solving discussion. For each spouse, one 10-minute “personal change” discussion. Positive and negative behaviors of the ‘helper’ are coded. 2-year follow-up data.

Some ‘Helper’ Codes: 

Some ‘Helper’ Codes “OK, so tomorrow, when you see Jack, what are you going to ask him?” “Are we done talking about your weight problem? I really don’t see the problem here.”

Conflict: Anger and Contempt: 

Conflict: Anger and Contempt Wives Husbands

Support: Helper Behaviors: 

Support: Helper Behaviors Positives Negatives Wives Husbands

Key Point?: 

Key Point? Problem-solving is not the only domain in which we can find behavioral antecedents of marital difficulties. The ‘deficit’ may be more basic, e.g., difficulty setting aside one’s own interests and concerns to attend to those of the partner and family.

C: Aggression in Young Couples: 

C: Aggression in Young Couples O’Leary et al. (1989) Men: 31% Women: 44% Couples: 57% Lawrence and Bradbury (2001) Men: 29% Women: 46% Couples: 48%


Moderately Aggressive Severely Aggressive Nonaggressive .07 .54 .62

Key Point?: 

Key Point? Aggression is surprisingly common. Relatively severe levels of ‘common couple violence’ foreshadow declines in couple functioning. Rare, sporadic exchanges in relationships also can prove costly.

Implication for Intervention?: 

Implication for Intervention? Partnerships will thrive to the extent they are marked by mutual support; by low levels of anger, contempt, and aggression; and by humor, affection and positive engagement. Valuable to document longitudinally, important to test experimentally.

Pointed Questions: 

Pointed Questions If two individuals are reasonably competent as relationship partners, are they assured a stable and fulfilling relationship? What prevents people from engaging in behaviors that promote the well-being of their relationships?

II From Depth to Breadth: 

II From Depth to Breadth To answer these questions we must look outside the dyad to consider … Partners’ Individual Characteristics As sources of dyadic processes. A Couple’s Context and Niche As sources of behavior and of fluctuations in their relationship satisfaction.

Individual Strengths and Vulnerabilities: 

Individual Strengths and Vulnerabilities Relatively stable demographic, historical, personality, and experiential factors that individuals bring to their relationship. A Personality B Insecure Attachment C Parental Conflict and Divorce

A. Family of Origin: 

A. Family of Origin Physical Aggression Wives’ 4-Year Parental Marital Divorce Outcomes p < .03 .04 .04 .13


Dyadic Anger and Contempt Conflict in 4-Year Husbands’ Marital Family Outcomes .02 .03 .15 p < .05


1289/1290 EC 1039 DOB 1319

Key Point?: 

Key Point? Important dyadic behaviors have roots in the family of origin. Identifying, and delivering services to, risky couples will prove efficient. Interventions and policies that strengthen families today should yield benefits much later, when their offspring form relationships.


1033/1034 EC 180 DOB 460 1 yr. 825 Sharp increase in workload. Overextended on credit. Sibling’s spouse died. Friend/relative moved away.


1277/1278 EC 555 DOB 835 1 yr. 1200 Unexpected major expenses. Overextended on credit. W reveals hidden debts. W ‘emotional difficulties.’ W treated for drug abuse. W convicted of a crime.

Contexts and Niches: 

Contexts and Niches The developmental transitions, situations, incidents, and chronic and acute circumstances that individuals and couples encounter. A Acute x Chronic Stress B Acute Stress and Behavior C Neighborhoods and Behavior

A: Acute x Chronic Stress: 

A: Acute x Chronic Stress Acute Stress Satisfaction LOW Chronic Stress: Weak Effect HIGH Chronic Stress: Strong Effect

C: Neighborhood Disadvantage Cutrona et al., 2003: 

C: Neighborhood Disadvantage Cutrona et al., 2003 ND MQ Warmth Women -.43 .18 Men -.30 .13 Hostility Women .35 -.13 Men .18 -.19 N = 202.

Key Point?: 

Key Point? Behavior and satisfaction are shaped, in part, by the events, transitions, and circumstances that partners and couples encounter. The balance between interior dynamics and exterior forces is likely to be crucial for understanding how families change.


Implication? To be successful, policies and interventions probably do need to change family processes. However, in the absence of contextual change, behavior change may be insufficient. A Modest Proposal: Work with couples to change how they understand and respond to stress.

An Ambitious Proposal: 

An Ambitious Proposal Intervening with environments: Safer Neighborhoods Better Schools, Literacy More Jobs Affordable Housing Quality Childcare Access to Health Care

Couple 1289/1290: 

Couple 1289/1290 EC 1039 DOB 1319 Husband Wife

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