Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

No Fun Anymore: Leisure and Marital Quality across the Transition to Parenthood

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

No Fun Anymore: Leisure and Marital Quality across the Transition to Parenthood

Article excerpt

This study examines changes in leisure patterns across the transition to parenthood for dual-earner, working-class couples, as well as the relationship between leisure and marital quality. To this end, 147 heterosexual couples were interviewed across the transition to parenthood. Findings indicate that during the transition to parenthood, husbands and wives experience an initial decline in leisure, followed by a gradual incline after the wife's return to work. Overall, wives who reported more shared leisure prenatally also reported more marital love and less conflict 1 year later. Husbands with more independent leisure prenatally reported less love and more conflict 1 year later. Conclusions suggest leisure time is integral to well-functioning marriages, with effects lasting throughout the first year of parenthood.

Key Words: dyadic/couple data, family leisure, relationship quality, transition to parenthood.

A satisfying marital relationship has been found to contribute to multiple aspects of mental health and well-being (Whisman, 1999), good parenting (Cox, Paley, & Payne, 1999), physical health (Burman & Margolin, 1992), and work productivity (Forthofer, Markman, Cox, Stanley, & Kessler, 1996). Perhaps this is why researchers have devoted an inordinate amount of time to studying the qualities that contribute to a satisfying marriage and relationship dissolution (for a review, see Bradbury, Fincham, & Beach, 2000). American culture has also embraced these interests, and many advice columns and books have focused on how to keep relationships stable and satisfying. These books often recommend that couples spend leisure time together to enrich their marriage. Books such as 100 Tips to Be Happy Together (Bristow, 2004) have encouraged married couples to participate in shared leisure activities, termed dating. According to Chapman (1992) in The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, spending quality time together is an important way to communicate love to a partner. Finally, Gray (1996) suggested that men and women have an emotional need for leisure time in Mars and Venus Together Forever.

Despite the consistency in the advice offered in self-help books, however, the research on this topic is far less definitive. It seems that as individuals develop, get married, and start families, leisure time is increasingly set aside and considered a bonus activity. Moreover, although there is a growing number of dual-earner families in America (Barnett, 2005), little is known about the role that leisure plays in the life of dual-eamer couples, who have less discretionary time for leisure after managing the demands of two jobs. Given the paucity of longitudinal research on leisure and marital quality, it is unclear to what extent encouraging couples to partake in leisure activities is a helpful recommendation. The purpose of this article is to learn more about leisure time and how it is related to couples' romantic relationships. Building on Huston's (2000) conceptualization of marriage, we focus on two key dimensions of marriage, love and conflict, as opposed to overall assessments of marital satisfaction, because we are interested in how different aspects of close relationships may be affected by shared time together. Although it is also likely that marital quality influences leisure participation, the aim of the current investigation is to explore whether couples who engage in shared leisure across the transition to parenthood report greater love and less conflict in their relationship.


Since Burgess (1926) highlighted the importance of studying life-cycle transitions in order to understand families and individuals, numerous family scholars have examined family transitions in order to understand how families cope with change (Cowan, 1991). Each major transition requires the family system to reorganize and accommodate change, as well as to renegotiate existing boundaries with regard to interpersonal power and emotional closeness (Mattessich & Hill, 1987). …

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