Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Mindfulness-Based Relationship Education for Couples Expecting Their First Child-Part 1: A Randomized Mixed-Methods Program Evaluation

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Mindfulness-Based Relationship Education for Couples Expecting Their First Child-Part 1: A Randomized Mixed-Methods Program Evaluation

Article excerpt

When parents are unhappy in their relationship or have highly conflictual relationships, children?s emotional and physical health can be negatively affected (Amato & Keith, 1991; Cummings & Davies, 1994; Elliott & Richards, 1991; Zill, Morrison, & Coiro, 1993). Yet, parents are significantly more dissatisfied in their marriages than nonparents (see meta-analytic review by Twenge, Campbell, & Foster, 2003) and as many as 90% of couples report a decline in relationship quality after becoming parents (Doss, Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009). Divorce rates are also elevated in the first 7 years of marriage, which is when parents often have children under the age of five (Cherlin, 1981). Although level of conflict between parents before and after divorce influences child outcomes (Kelly, 2000), children with divorced parents may be twice as likely to have significant impairments in academic performance, emotional health, and social functioning (Lansford, 2009). Divorce impacts parents as well as children. Parents without a partner may be less satisfied with their lives and more overwhelmed with parenting duties and financial pressures than parenting couples (Dew & Wilcox, 2011; Wilcox & Marquardt, 2011), which contributes to increased depression rates for single parents (Evenson & Simon, 2005). Thus, it is necessary to target this transitional stage to prevent couple relationship decline and the potential negative outcomes that could follow for parents, children, and families.

Although premarital programs are common, few brief and effective programs exist to support couples who are having their first child. To address the need for more effective couple-focused intervention for parents-to-be, the first author developed the Mindful Transition to Parenthood Program (MTPP). The program is based on the theory of interpersonal neurobiology, which emphasizes the importance of attunement in promoting healthy relationships (Siegel, 1999). Mindfulness training is included in this program to help participants develop intrapersonal attunement, presence, empathy, and self-regulation. Further, the nonpharmacological nature of mindfulness practice may appeal to pregnant women who want to manage the stress and difficult emotions which can arise in pregnancy without the potential side effects that often accompany medication (Dimidjian & Goodman, 2009). This study is a mixed-methods randomized clinical trial to measure the effectiveness of this program; the researchers present qualitative findings in a related article (see Gambrel & Piercy, this issue).

TRANSITION TO PARENTHOOD

The transition to parenthood can be a stressful time for couples because of declines in relationship satisfaction (Cowan & Cowan, 2000; Shapiro, Gottman, & Carrère, 2000), increased conflict in the couple relationship (Belsky & Kelly, 1994), and increased risk of relationship dissolution (Cherlin, 1981; Cowan & Cowan, 2000). Although these postnatal declines are widely known to scholars, new parents are often unaware of these potential problems and can be surprised by the postnatal difficulties that emerge in their relationships (Deave, Johnson, & Ingram, 2008). After the birth of a child, parents are also at increased risk for depression, stress, and declines in psychological well-being, in part because of the additional demands on time, adjustment to new identities and roles, and lack of sleep that can accompany having a child (Cowan & Cowan, 2000).

When parents are unhappy in their relationship with each other, it often impedes their ability to parent effectively. Yu, Pettit, Lansford, Dodge, and Bates (2010) found that high marital conflict is negatively correlated with parent-child relationship quality. Further, postpartum depression can negatively impact the parent-child relationship and infant social-emotional health (Feldman et al., 2009). Having a stable couple relationship may ameliorate risks for new parents by decreasing the stress of both partners (Cox, Paley, Burchinal, & Payne, 1999). …

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