Academic journal article Family Relations

A Meta-Analytic Study of Couple Interventions during the Transition to Parenthood

Academic journal article Family Relations

A Meta-Analytic Study of Couple Interventions during the Transition to Parenthood

Article excerpt

The present meta-analysis integrates results of 21 controlled couple-focused interventions with expectant and new parents. The interventions had, on average, small effects on couple communication (d = .28 standard deviation units) and psychological well-being (d = .21), as well as very small effects on couple adjustment (d = .09). Stronger effects emerged if the intervention included more than five sessions, included an antenatal and postnatal component, and was led by professionals rather than semiprofessionals.

Key Words: couple, intervention, marital quality, parenthood, prevention.

The transition to parenthood is one of the most challenging family transitions (Huston & Holmes, 2004). During this transition, many parents show a decline in couple adjustment and positive couple communication (Cowan & Cowan, 2000; Doss, Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009). In addition, psychological distress is quite common in young parents. For example, studies show that up to 80% of new mothers experience mild symptoms of depression in the first weeks after giving birth, and 10 to 30% of new mothers develop clinical depression (Miller, Pallant, & Negri, 2006). Psychological distress may also have a negative effect on parenting behavior, such as sensitivity, investment in the child, overall quality of parenting, and cooperation between parents (Foster, Garber, & Durlak, 2008).

Starting in the 1970s, interventions with expectant and new parents have been developed and evaluated (Liebenberg, 1 973 ). The goal ?? couple-focused interventions is to strengthen marital relationships by preparing couples for the difficulties inherent during the transition to parenthood and promoting relationship skills (e.g., communication, conflict management), mutual support, and realistic expectations about parenthood. Two narrative reviews of couple-focused interventions in the transition to parenthood reported some positive effects on couple adjustment, couple communication, and psychological well-being, but not all of the included studies were successful (Cowan & Cowan, 1995; Petch & Halford, 2008). Available meta-analytic studies on couple education in general have found significant improvements in couple adjustment and satisfaction of d = .15 to d - .54 standard deviation units (Giblin, Sprenkle, & Sheehan, 1985; Hawkins, Blanchard, Baldwin, & Fawcett, 2008). Unfortunately, these authors did not report separate results for included studies with expectant and new parents. Moreover, they failed to include further outcome variables, such as parental mental health and parenting, which may also be affected by these interventions. Thus, the goal of this study was to meta-analyze the effects of interventions that were targeted at preventing a decline of couple adjustment during the transition to parenthood on a broader range of outcome variables.

We focused on interventions that start during pregnancy or in the first six months after birth because (a) the most recent narrative review on early interventions used the same inclusion criterion (Petch & Halford, 2008), (b) prevention should ideally start before problems develop, (c) couple adjustment before birth predicts postnatal adjustment (Karney & Bradbury, 1997), (d) there are many new challenges in the transition to parenthood (Cowan & Cowan, 2000), (e) sudden deterioration of couple adjustment have been observed following birth (Doss et al., 2009), and (f) there is a high risk for postnatal depression in the first months after giving birth to a child (Miller et al., 2006).

In our first research question, we considered the strength of average effects of early interventions on couple adjustment, couple stability, and couple communication (e.g., amount of conflict, problem-solving). We also analyzed the effects on parenting, parental stress, and psychological well-being, as the intervention studies often included these additional outcome measures. …

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