Same family, divergent realities: How triangulation preserves parents’ illusory harmony while adolescents navigate interparental conflicts.

Devin M. McCauley, Carlie J. Sloan, Mengya Xia, Gregory M. Fosco

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Triangulation is a process in which a child is drawn into conflict between two parents, and is linked to adolescent psychological maladjustment. Although harmful, families may engage in triangulation due to its promotion of diverging realities in which youth become more attuned to interparental conflict (IPC), yet parents are distracted from tension within their interparental relationship. Although central to theoretical depictions of triangulation and carrying robust implications for family science and prevention, the phenomenon of diverging realities in triangulating families has received inadequate empirical evaluation. This study utilized data collected from 150 families in which 1 parent and 1 adolescent completed baseline surveys and 21 daily diary questionnaires on triangulation, IPC, and family cohesion. Multilevel models were applied, nesting days within families, to evaluate within-family associations between triangulation and divergent perspectives of family functioning. Results from multilevel models indicated that on days when adolescents experienced elevated triangulation, discrepancies between adolescent and parent reports of IPC and family cohesion increased, with adolescents reporting significantly higher levels of IPC and lower levels of family cohesion relative to their parents. Further probing of the trends driving these discrepancies yielded a distinct pattern of results for IPC and family cohesion. Adolescent involvement in IPC is associated with more negative perspectives of family functioning relative to parents. These findings imply a mechanism through which triangulation confers risk to adolescents, and highlight that divergence in parent and adolescent perspectives of family functioning fluctuates depending on daily processes. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-137
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)

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