Academic journal article Family Relations

Relationship Interventions during the Transition to Parenthood: Issues of Timing and Efficacy

Academic journal article Family Relations

Relationship Interventions during the Transition to Parenthood: Issues of Timing and Efficacy

Article excerpt

This study evaluated the efficacy of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) adapted for Danish couples expecting their first child. Couples were recruited consecutively through a public maternity ward (N = 290). On the basis of due dates, they were allocated to (a) PREP, (b) an information-based control group (INFO), or (c) naturally occurring care. Approximately half of the couples accepted program invitations. Across 24 months, all 3 groups declined in relationship satisfaction, and no significant differences were found between PREP and INFO or between PREP and the natural condition. Negativity decreased from preto posttest for women in the PREP condition, but this was not significantly different from the women in the INFO condition. Findings revealed that communication skills training was not effective during pregnancy, and no intervention was successful at preventing the decline in satisfaction during the transition to parenthood. This study suggests that pregnancy may not be an optimal time for relational interventions like PREP.

Key Words: couple education, couple relationship, prevention, skills training, transition to parenthood.

For most expectant couples, the arrival of a first child is a symbol of love and unity (Feeney, Hohaus, Noller, & Alexander, 2001). The experience of parenthood, however, is often quite different from what couples expect (e.g., Beísky, 1985). Along with joy, affection, and companionship comes the experience of parental fatigue (Petch & Halford, 2008), role overload (PerryJenkins, Goldberg, Pierce, & Sayer, 2007), and reduced time for leisure and couple intimacy (e.g., Feeney et al., 200 1 ). One consistent finding throughout the Transition to Parenthood (TtP) literature is small to moderate average declines in relationship quality (Gottman & Notarius, 2002; Twenge, Campbell, & Foster, 2003). Despite problems with uncontrolled parenthood studies and the continuing debate over whether these declines are caused by the baby or merely reflect the passage of time (Doss, Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009; Mitnick, Heyman, & Slep, 2009), most researchers agree that the TtP can be a catalyst for negative change in relationship satisfaction depending on conditions of risk (Cowan & Cowan, 1995; Doss et al., 2009).

Several studies have documented associations between the postbirth quality of a couple's relationship and the quality of both parenting (e.g., Cox, Paley, Payne, & Burchinal, 1999) and coparenting (e.g., McHale, 1995), strengthening arguments for enhancing the couple relationship early in family life. Not all couple-focused interventions have proven successful at the TtP, however (for reviews, see Petch & Halford, 2008; Pinquart & Teubert, 2010), and the ability to achieve practically meaningful change seems to depend on a number of factors, such as program intensity, inclusion of both prenatal and postnatal components, professional leadership (Pinquart & Teubert, 2010), flexible program delivery, a focus on skills training, and targeting couples at risk (Petch & Halford, 2008).

PREP (Stanley, Blumberg, & Markman, 1 999) is a widely used couple education program that has been adapted to TtP couples following most of the above mentioned guidelines (Becoming Parents; Jordan, Stanley, & Markman, 1 999). PREP is a psychoeducational prevention program for couples with the overarching goal of lessening risk and increasing protective factors that have previously been linked to relationship problems (Stanley et al., 1999). The PREP approach >s based on the theory and principles of behavioral and cognitive-behavioral couple therapies (e.g., Baucom & Epstein, 1990; Jacobson & Margolin, 1979), but is future oriented in its intent to maintain already high levels of couple functioning. PREP focuses on reducing risk via communication skills and effective conflict management as well as on promoting protective factors in the relationship such as commitment, fun, intimacy, and friendship. …

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