How Do Disadvantaged Parents View Tensions in Their Relationships? Insights for Relationship Longevity Among At-Risk Couples*


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    I would like to thank Renzo Tragsiel, Mabel Andalon Lopez, and Jean Knab for assistance. I am also grateful to the Public Policy Institute of California and the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center for generous support of the project and to the editors and anonymous reviewers at Family Relations for their excellent feedback on this article. All errors are those of the author alone. The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is funded by the NICHD and a consortium of other agencies and foundations.

**Maureen R. Waller is an assistant professor in the Department of Policy Analysis & Management, 257 MVR Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 (


Abstract: Drawing on longitudinal, qualitative interviews with parents in the Fragile Families Study, this paper examines the narrative frames through which partners in stable and unstable unions viewed tensions over economic issues, domestic responsibilities, personal problems, communication, trust, and their family and social networks. These interviews suggest that parents in stable unions framed tensions as manageable within the context of a relationship they perceived to be moving forward, whereas those in unstable unions viewed tensions as intolerable in relationships they considered volatile. Three years later, parents’ narrative frames generally guided their decisions about maintaining or dissolving relationship, but some parents changed their interpretations in response to unexpected positive or negative events, with important implications for union longevity.