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A process model of the implications of spillover from coparenting conflicts into the parent–child attachment relationship in adolescence

  • Meredith J. Martin (a1), Melissa L. Sturge-Apple (a1), Patrick T. Davies (a1), Christine V. Romero (a1) and Abigail Buckholz (a1)...


Drawing on a two-wave, multimethod, multi-informant design, this study provides the first test of a process model of spillover specifying why and how disruptions in the coparenting relationship influence the parent–adolescent attachment relationship. One hundred ninety-four families with an adolescent aged 12–14 (M age = 12.4) were followed for 1 year. Mothers and adolescents participated in two experimental tasks designed to elicit behavioral expressions of parent and adolescent functioning within the attachment relationship. Using a novel observational approach, maternal safe haven, secure base, and harshness (i.e., hostility and control) were compared as potential unique mediators of the association between conflict in the coparenting relationship and adolescent problems. Path models indicated that, although coparenting conflicts were broadly associated with maternal parenting difficulties, only secure base explained the link to adolescent adjustment. Adding further specificity to the process model, maternal secure base support was uniquely associated with adolescent adjustment through deficits in adolescents' secure exploration. Results support the hypothesis that coparenting disagreements undermine adolescent adjustment in multiple domains specifically by disrupting mothers' ability to provide a caregiving environment that supports adolescent exploration during a developmental period in which developing autonomy is a crucial stage-salient task.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Meredith J. Martin, Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627; E-mail:


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This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant 5R01HD06078905 (to M.L.S.-A. and P.T.D.). We are grateful to the teens and parents who participated in this project. Our gratitude is expressed to the staff on the project and the graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Rochester.



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