Marital conflict and child-mother attachment relationships

Laura Y Anaya, Purdue University


The present study explored the relations between marital conflict and child-mother attachment relationships. A nonclinical sample of 86 non-Hispanic Caucasian mother-child dyads participated in the study when children were approximately 3.5 years old (M = 3.73). Maternal sensitivity and children's attachment security were observed across three visits: one visit was in the home, and two visits were in the park. Mothers completed a series of questionnaires measuring a global index of marital discord, spousal verbal aggression, spousal physical aggression, and childrearing disagreements. The relations between the aspects of marital conflict on maternal sensitivity and children's attachment security with their mothers were explored. In line with previous research, results revealed that maternal sensitivity was positively associated with children's attachment security, indicating that mothers who were more sensitive and responsive with their children were more likely to have children who used their mothers as a secure base from which to explore from. Results also revealed very low overall reports of conflict in the sample. Despite the low levels of conflict reported, verbal aggression significantly predicted maternal sensitivity above and beyond global marital conflict. Findings are discussed in light of attachment theory and previous marital conflict research, and suggest the need to replicate this study with a more representative sample, in terms of ethnicity and SES factors in order to potentially find more variability in the measures, as well as to increase the ability to generalize findings. Additionally, the need for a larger sample is highlighted, in order to increase the power to detect effects. Studying these relations longitudinally would also help establish the direction of any effects found. Further, findings also underscore the need to include fathers in future studies in order to have a better understanding of what occurs in the marital relationship and the family system.




Posada, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology

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