Research has long demonstrated that inter-parental conflict which is frequent, intense and poorly resolved can be profoundly damaging to children’s mental health. However, conflict between parents which is non-violent is also detrimental to child development, studies show.
Exposure to inter-parental conflict can affect children of all ages (including babies) and can manifest itself as increased anxiety, depression, aggression, hostility, anti-social behaviour and criminality as well as poorer academic attainment.
The effect of inter-parental conflict on children depends both upon the manner in which it is expressed, managed and resolved, as well as the extent to which children feel at fault for, or threatened by, their parent’s relationship arguments.
The relationship between parents serves as a model for the expectations children have of other family relationships, including the parent-child relationship. It is important therefore that we do not only promote family-focused interventions which target parenting; instead, we should invest in programmes that focus on couple relationship quality, since it is these programmes which have been evidenced to offer significant benefits to children.