Effects of Marital Conflict on Academic Development of Students

Effects of Marital Conflict on Academic Development of Students
Marital conflict affects different students in different levels of education including primary, secondary and tertiary. In this article, we looked at the effect of marital conflicts on the academic development of secondary school students. This article is an empirical study backed up with data collected from 15 different secondary schools.


Education is important in any given society; it helps in the development of innate abilities and capabilities of individuals. Through education an individual’s physical, emotional, social, cognitive and intellectual abilities could be developed. According to Ugwuanyi (2003: 120-121) education is the process by which society establishes to assist the young to learn and understand the heritage of the past, participate productively in the society and contribute meaningfully for the development of the society. Education could be seen as a process by which society deliberately transmits knowledge, values and skills through schools, colleges and other institutions. Hence, good education forms the building block of individual’s academic development and achievement, and contributes immensely to the actualization of the individual’s potentials.

Research has shown that academic development is important during early adolescence because life accomplishment, or lack of accomplishment during this developmental transition is a precursor to future academic and occupational endeavors (Elder & Conger, 2000: 103-104). Feshbach & Feshbach (1987: 1335-1338), noted that social scientists, educators, policy makers and parents often emphasize on educational success as adolescent age because unsuccessful academic achievement always leads to negative outcome such as depression, low self-esteem, drug use, aggressive behavior, criminal perpetrations and difficulty finding gainful employment. Pallas (2000: 499-500), observed that good academic development has lasting importance because it represents the individual’s status and can influence the individual’s subsequent developmental tasks such as family relationships, social status, physical health and mental wellbeing. Connell, Halpern-Felsher, Clifford, Crichlow & Usinger (1995: 47), noted that youths who demonstrate higher academic achievement also are more likely to report lower drug use and decreased propensities for school dropout.

Over the years, investigations of the factors that influence academic development of students have attracted the interest and concern of many teachers, counselors, researchers and also many school administrators in Nigeria. This is simply because members of the public often complain of the low standard of education in the country. According to Uwaifo (2008: 121-124), the declining quality of education in the country and the breeding of graduates with little or no experiences, and little technical knowhow has resulted in serious setbacks to the industrial development of the nation Nigeria. Studies have often concentrated on the socio-economic status of parents, family structure and parent-child relationship on academic performance of students.

Marital conflict includes constant disagreement between parents and broken family caused by divorce, separation, illegitimacy, unfaithfulness and sibling structure. Steinberg and Silk (2002:103-133), noted that self-efficacy is a major element for success in the life span and related to psychological, physical and social health of adolescence; and the family is viewed as a primary source for adolescent’s self-efficacy and well-being. When there is conflict in the family it directly affects the children negatively, which in turn has a reverberating effect on the academic development of the children.

The Problem

The problem of this research is focused on the incessant examination malpractices experienced at all levels of education and the declining quality of graduates at all levels of education in Nigeria. Nigeria occupies 145th position in primary education in the world (Adesulu, 2016:16), and there has been steady decline of performance of candidates in WAEC examinations in recent years (The guardian, 2016: 47). The continuing decline in educational standards in Nigeria especially as shown in public examination and the performance of education outputs that are inadequate for employment raises the question: what is the fundamental cause of decline in academic performance?

This key question motivates the researcher to study on the major causes of the declining academic performance as is observed in secondary schools. This study, therefore, seeks to find if marital conflicts have effects on the academic development and overall performance of students in Christian senior secondary school in Umuahia Education Zone of Abia State, Nigeria.

Specifically, the study will attempt to establish the effects of marital conflicts on cognitive development, psychomotor development and affective development and how they affect the overall academic development  of students.

The Significance

The findings of this study may be of help to teachers, educators, policy analysts, caregivers and parents and it will add knowledge to the body of literature on family conflicts. This study has exposed my knowledge on marital conflicts and helped me understand their effects on academic development of students. The study will be of help to parents and caregivers in Umuahia an society at large, especially those who experience problems in their families. It will help parents and caregivers understand how conflicts can affect their children emotionally, socially and intellectually. Better understanding of this will help parents and caregivers embrace dialogue and understanding in an effort to solve their marital problems.

Furthermore, the study will contribute to the body of literature on marital conflicts and its effects on academic development of secondary school students with reference to Umuahia educational zone of Abia State. This research may also be of benefit to pastors, especially, marriage counsellors. They will be able to offer intervention measures to marriages that face problems and help them establish marital stability for the benefit of the children.

The Concept

Conflict usually occurs when two people believe that their desires, aspirations, and interests can no longer be simultaneously achieved. It is a common occurrence in life and arises within and among people, including friends, couples, family members or community members, and even political cabals. Conflict involves apparent, but not always actual opposition between two or more people. Many writers understood conflict in different ways. Webster Dictionary (1995) defined conflict as a fight, battle, struggle, sharp disagreement, clash, opposition of interest, idea, etc. in other words, conflict connotes warfare, crisis, violence and stress.

According to Omojola (1998:57) conflict is a clash of interest and personality. Ezegbe (1997:69-72) says that conflict is the mutual hostility at inter-personal, inter-human, inter-actions levels. This mutual hostility can be verbal, physical or emotional depending on the nature of the conflict. Within the marital setting verbal hostility could be expressed in form of rebukes, insults, name-calling, etc. while physical hostility is expressed in the form of fighting, inflicting injuries, termination of relationship, etc.

In his own, Goldberg & Goldberg (1990:229-231) connotes conflict to mean the collision, clash or to be in opposition or at variance with somebody. He narrates conflict to mean strife, controversy and discord of action or any other action related to hostility. Furthermore, Ogunna (1993:145) sees conflict as a situation in which persons or groups disagree over means or ends and try to establish their views in preference to others. It is also a behaviour by a person or group that is purposefully designed to block the attainment of goals by another person or group.

Marital conflicts refer to difficult relationships experienced by husband and wife in their marriage. It is the disagreement or squabble between husband and wife in their marriage relationship. No particular marriage could be ascribed a perfect one; conflicts are bound to emanate from marriages and can arise when misunderstanding is the order of the day between spouses. In some families, especially the illiterate and poor ones, who do not understand the basic concept of marriage, but sees it as an avenue for baby making, the pre-requisites of a peaceful home through happiness may not be a vital condition to be met. Such marriages may spring out conflicts where relationships such as parent-child, spouse-spouse, spouse-in-law relationships lack peace and harmony.

Marital conflict has constituted a serious threat to social and economic stability of Nigeria (Nnenna and Nweke, 1989:29-32). The ill has partly been blamed on marriage with biases for wealth, unemployment, and lack of pre-marital counseling. According to Nwoye (1991:13), conflict in marriage refers to dissensions between marital partners over values, beliefs, goals, mores and behaviours that make up the structure of the nuclear unit. In other words, marital conflict is a negative interaction in marriage, which can be verbal, or non-verbal or both in which the husband and the wife aim to neutralize, injure and disgrace each other. Marital conflict could be viewed as the failure of husband and wife to perform their role obligations in marriage. Marital conflict or instability can be equated to disorganization and perceived unstable marriage a problem ridden. In our present society, marriage institution has been affected by problems, which is as a result of social changes. It seems likely that the impact of such changes is becoming more drastic, negative and severe on marriage.

Alan and Johnson (1983:373-387) described marital conflict to refer to marital disruption, low marital quality and less frequently desertion, which affects the stability of marriage. According to them, marital crises can be described as periods or situations in the marriage, which require some adjustment so that harmony in marriage relationships can be restored. Marital crisis can either come from within or outside the family. Also, many ordinary situations can often develop into crisis situation when the ability to deal with its demands is not there. In the same development, they also said that conflicts in relationships are often experienced in crisis situation as a result of the destructive nature of crisis.

Theories of Marital Conflict

The psychodynamic theory

This theory emanates from the classical psychoanalytic approach (Misbach, 1948: 143-156). According to Misbach, human behavior is controlled by irrational instincts and the conscious mental processes. Most of our behaviour arises from the unconscious, the pool house where repressed memories and desires are stored because of societal fear and shame. This theory hence proposes that, to discover what has gone wrong in a given marital conflict, the marriage counselor needs to probe into the deep – seated character traits of the two personalities involved (Sholfer & Shoben, 1986: 72-75).

The structural theory

This theory stipulates that in marriage, conflicts arise when the couple finds it difficult to interact positively in their relationship by allowing significant others like in laws, business associates, colleagues at office, friends and neighbours to influence the relationship in their marriage.

The role theory

The role theory states that conflict in marriage arises as a result of disagreement between partners on their different role expectations. According to Magnus (1957), the role theory assumes that prior to marriage:

  • Each partner in marriage relationship usually enters the marriage with the perceptions on how he or she should behave and on how the other partner should behave
  • Each partner in marriage, harbours expectation on how the roles expected of the other should be executed

However, problems or conflict arises when these inter – personal role expectations conflict or disagree. Magnus (1957:200-202) noted that this disagreement in marital role expectations arise due mainly to the fact that the two parties in the marriage come from different family/ social backgrounds and usually lack the opportunity to sit down to discuss and harmonize for themselves what each is expected to do in the marriage, before and after marriage.


This study established that marital conflicts significantly affect students’ academic development. It specially established that marital conflicts affect students of senior secondary schools’ cognitive development, psychomotor development and affective development, which affect their overall academic development.

You can download the full research paper on the Effects of marital conflict on academic development.