Marital Quality Spillover and Young Children’s Adjustment: Evidence for Dyadic and Triadic Parenting as Mechanisms

Catherine B. Stroud*, Kathryn M. Meyers, Sylia Wilson, C. Emily Durbin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Research has evidenced support for the spillover model, which posits that parents’ marital functioning influences child adjustment by eroding parenting and coparenting in dyadic (mother–child and father–child) and triadic (mother–father–child) contexts. However, prior work has not simultaneously investigated dyadic and triadic parenting as mechanisms of spillover. Furthermore, although evidence indicates that the marital system affects child adjustment by influencing parents’ behavior, research has not explored whether child behaviors in parent–child interactions also serve as mechanisms. To address these gaps, we examined the spillover model using observational measures of parent and child behavior in parent–child dyadic interactions as well as coparenting in triadic interactions. We also explored parent and child gender differences in spillover effects. Participants were families with children 3 to 6 years of age (n = 149; 62% Caucasian). Findings indicated that marital functioning influences child adjustment by disrupting parent–child interactions in dyadic and triadic contexts, although results differed by child/parent gender and outcome examined. First, children's responsiveness to their mothers emerged as a significant mechanism of spillover effects for boys’ internalizing and girls’ externalizing behavior. Second, for girls and boys, marital functioning was indirectly related to children's internalizing and externalizing behavior through reductions in coparenting warmth. Finally, there was little evidence that parent gender moderated the indirect effect of dyadic parenting, except that child responsiveness to mothers (vs. to fathers) was more strongly related to child adjustment. These findings underscore the need for interventions targeting dyadic and triadic parent–child interactions in the face of marital distress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)800-813
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 3 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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