Effects of marital and cross generational alliances on the adjustment and separation of late adolescents
Garner, Holly Denise
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Several hypotheses about healthy family functioning have been proposed by various family theorists. One widely held belief is that the marital relationship should be the strongest, most important one in the family, and the relationship between parent and child should be less intense and separate from the marital relationship if the family is to function effectively. Parent-child coalitions are believed especially harmful when late adolescents attempt to separate from their families and form separate identities. The Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems proposes several hypotheses regarding healthy family functioning. Healthy families are believed to have central (balanced) levels of cohesion and adaptability, while dysfunctional families have low or high extremes of these two dimensions. The Model also proposes that strong marital alliances are characteristic of families with balanced levels of cohesion, and parent-child coalitions occur in families with extremely high levels of cohesion. The present study tested three hypotheses using a sample of late adolescents who are just beginning the separation process (i.e., freshmen college students). The first hypothesis predicted that students whose parents form the primary relationship in the family would be better adjusted and more psychologically separated from their parents than students involved in a cross-generational alliance with a parent. No significant differences between groups were found; the hypothesis was not supported. The second hypothesis predicted that students whose families are balanced on cohesion and adaptability would score higher on adjustment and psychological separation than students whose families are extreme on the two dimensions. Significant differences were found between groups, but were not in the predicted direction. Students from families with high extremes of cohesion and adaptability scored highest on adjustment and psychological separation, with students from families with low extremes of the two dimensions scoring lowest. The third hypothesis predicted that more students whose parents form the primary relationship would have families with balanced levels of cohesion, and more students from parent-child coalition families would score extremely high on cohesion. No significant differences between groups were found. Discussion of these results included possible explanations for the findings and suggestions for further research.