chapter  11
The Role of Perception in Interparental Conflict
ByTamara D. Afifi, Shardé Davis, Anne F. Merrill, Samantha Coveleski
Pages 22

An incredible amount of research has examined the impact of divorce and parents’ conflict on children. While conflict is a natural and often productive part of families, negative forms of interparental conflict adversely affects children’s relational and mental health (Fabricius & Luecken, 2007). Unfortunately, parents are often unaware of how they communicate during conflict and the effect it has on their children, particularly if their children become enmeshed in it. Children who feel caught between their parents’ conflict tend to avoid talking about their feelings in an effort to minimize the conflict. Partially due to this avoidance, parents continue to communicate in ways that place their children in the middle of their disputes (see Afifi, 2003). But what if parents and adolescents were asked to have a conversation about

the parents’ conflict and then reflect on how they communicated together about it? What would the adolescents think about their parents’ communication? What would the parents think of their adolescents’ communication? The goal of the current chapter is to shed light on these questions by examining the role of parents’ and adolescents’ perceptions via video recall procedures during such a discussion task. Researchers commonly use video recall procedures with conflict and have shown that people are not very good at deciphering what the other person is thinking during a conflict. This research also shows that people tend to make attributional errors about the other person’s conflict behaviors and thoughts. Much of the video recall research has been conducted with couples or with parents and adolescents and shows that romantic partners often tend to blame their partner for negative conflict patterns, particularly when the couple is dissatisfied or in a turbulent relationship (e.g., Sillars et al, 2000). The research with parents and adolescents demonstrates, among other findings, that parents do not readily understand what their adolescents are thinking about their family

conflict patterns (e.g., Sillars et al, 2005). But, no research, to our knowledge, has used video recall with parents and adolescents who are asked to reflect on parents’ conflict. Introducing the adolescents’ perspective could provide another important perspective on the parents’ conflict that could be informative for parents and children alike. Before addressing the role of perception in interparental conflict, however, the research on parents’ conflict in divorced and non-divorced families is discussed briefly.