A new study published by the Journal of Family Psychology suggests that when married couples fight, the husbands allow the tension to carry over from their spouse to their children for longer periods of time than their wives. Lead author and Southern Methodist University assistant psychology professor Chrystyna D. Kouros and her team chronicled the behavior of more than 200 families, whom they asked to journal and rate their relationships with both their spouse and their children over the course of 15 days. They then looked at arguments and how these tension points affected each parent’s reported relationship with their children.
While, in most cases, both parents reported correlation between spousal arguments and tension with their children, fathers were found to allow the problems go on longer. Kouros said, “In families where the mom was showing signs of depression, dads on the other hand let the marital tension spill over, with the result being poorer interactions with their child, even on the next day.”
On the other hand, the authors found that mothers were able to compartmentalize spousal arguments, shaking the spillover tension off within 24 hours, and in some cases, the arguments led to closer relationships with their children. Kouros even told SMUResearch, “Poor marital quality actually predicted an improvement in the relationship between the mom and the child.”
The reasoning for this outcome is unclear, but Kouros and her team’s guesses include that “because women’s parenting role is more clearly defined, they don’t allow their marital woes to negatively affect other relationships in the family.” Another may be that some women seeking emotional support and security from their children when they are feeling smited by their spouses. Kouros warns this can lead to “parentification,” a psychological process that is defined by the role-reversal of parent and child.