Academic journal article Family Relations

Predictors of Change in Relationship Satisfaction during the Transition to Parenthood

Academic journal article Family Relations

Predictors of Change in Relationship Satisfaction during the Transition to Parenthood

Article excerpt

from pregnancy to 30-months postpartum. When these risk factors were combined, additive rather than interactive risk models were supported. Practical implications of additive risk factors are discussed

The birth of a first child is a joyous event for most couples. However, it is also a time of exceptional demand during which new parents may struggle with fatigue and exhaustion (Petch & Halford, 2008), role overload (Perry-Jenkins, Goldberg, Pierce, & Sayer, 2007), and reduced time for leisure and couple intimacy (Feeney, Hohaus, Noller, & Alexander, 2001). A meta-analysis (Mitnick, Heyman, & Slep, 2009) documented the decline in relationship satisfaction across the transition to parenthood (TtP), but cautioned that the decline across time in longitudinal studies did not differ for parents and nonparents. Two recent studies estimating trajectories of change for parents and nonparents found that in parents, the TtP hastened the declines in relationship satisfaction, though declines occurred in parent and nonparent groups (Doss, Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009; Lawrence, Rothman, Cobb, Rothman, & Bradbury, 2008). These results underscore a basic assumption in most TtP research - that though the passage of time challenges relationships in general, the high demands of new parenthood catalyze declines in relationship satisfaction depending on a risk gradient (Cowan & Cowan, 1995).

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in programming for couples during the TtP in the United States (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008) and in other high-income countries (e.g., Norway: BarneLigestillings-og Inkluderingsdepartementet, 2008), yet so far the success of these programs has been limited (e.g., Wood, Moore, Clarkwest, & Killewald, 2014). We previously found that teaching couples skills for constructive communication and problem solving during pregnancy using a Danish adaptation of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP; Stanley, Blumberg, & Markman, 1999) had no effect on postbirth communication and did not prevent later erosion of relationship satisfaction (Trillingsgaard, Baucom, Heyman, & Elklit, 2012). Similarly, the large, multisite Building Strong Families Project (Wood et al., 2014) concluded that programs for new or expectant low-income parents produced little to no positive effects on relationship quality at 15 months follow-up. In a meta-analysis (Pinquart & Teubert, 2010), couple-focused interventions during the TtP on average had small effects on communication skills (d = .28) and negligible effects on relationship quality (cl = .09). In contrast, results from a meta-analysis by Hawkins, Blanchard, Baldwin, and Fawcett (2008) - that included samples of couples at various stages of their relationship- demonstrated that couple education generally produced moderate effects on both relationship quality (ranged cl = .30 to .36) and communication skills (ranged cl = .43 to .45). The comparably lower effects of couple education offered to new or expectant parents (as compared with couples in general) could be due to underexplored contextual and individual constraints of relationship maintenance during the TtP that interventions have yet to surmount. The vulnerability-stress-adaptation model (VSA model; Karney & Bradbury, 1995) provides a useful framework for hypothesizing what these constraints may be and how they combine to influence relationship satisfaction.

The Vulnerability-Stress-Adaptation Model

All couples must adapt to a variety of stressful events and circumstances over the course of their relationships; to understand this developmental course, Karney and Bradbury (1995) proposed the VSA model. This model holds that relationship outcomes are determined by the nature of the stressful events that the couple encounters, the enduring vulnerabilities that each partner brings to the relationship, and the quality of the couple's adaptive processes. …

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