Marital conflict in the home

With my graduate mentor, Mark Cummings, and colleagues from the University of Notre Dame, I have conducted daily diary studies to elucidate the occurrence and implications of marital conflict in families’ homes. We aim to address a wide range of practical questions concerning marital conflict as it unfolds in families’ daily lives and its ensuing implications for parents and children. For example, we found that parents shield children from conflict exposure, holding about two-thirds of marital conflict when children are not present (Papp, Cummings, & Goeke-Morey, 2002). However, marital conflict in the home was handled more negatively (and was more often about the children) when children were present compared to when they were absent. We suspect that the presence of additional important people creates a heightened sense of tension for couples trying to resolve their differences, thus leaving parents with diminished resources for protecting their children from relatively hostile behaviors and emotions. These findings have important implications for the development of children’s emotional security in family contexts.

Other studies have focused on topics discussed during marital conflict in the home, indicating, for example, that conflicts concerning finances (e.g., spending money, jobs) serve as particularly stressful and unresolved issues for couples (Papp, Cummings, & Goeke-Morey, 2009). In addition, we have used our home diary methodology to complement questions typically studied in laboratory-based research. As an example, we found that in marital conflict in the home husbands and wives were equally likely to hold the roles of the demander and the withdrawer in the commonly studied “demand-withdraw” communication pattern (Papp, Kouros, & Cummings, 2009). Additionally, a study based on my dissertation research indicates that the handling of marital conflict in the home is uniquely associated with spouses’ psychological symptoms, beyond the effect of global marital evaluations (Papp, Goeke-Morey, & Cummings, 2007). We hope to pursue additional investigations of naturalistic conflict in the home across diverse couples and families, in terms of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic representations; family composition and structures; and lifespan stages.

Representative  publications:

Cummings, E. M., Goeke-Morey, M. C., & Papp, L. M. (2003). Children’s responses to everyday marital conflict tactics in the home. Child Development, 74, 1918-1929.

Papp, L. M., Cummings, E. M., & Goeke-Morey, M. C. (2002). Marital conflicts in the home when children are present versus absent. Developmental Psychology, 38, 774-783.

Papp, L. M., Cummings, E. M., & Goeke-Morey, M. C. (2009). For richer, for poorer: Money as a topic of marital conflict in the home. Family Relations, 58, 91-103.

Papp, L. M., Goeke-Morey, M. C., & Cummings, E. M. (2007). Linkages between spouses’ psychological distress and marital conflict in the home. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 533-537.

Papp, L. M., Kouros, C. D., & Cummings, E. M. (2009). Demand-withdraw patterns in marital conflict in the home. Personal Relationships, 16, 285-300.