Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

The Dyadic Effects of Supportive Coparenting and Parental Stress on Relationship Quality across the Transition to Parenthood

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

The Dyadic Effects of Supportive Coparenting and Parental Stress on Relationship Quality across the Transition to Parenthood

Article excerpt

As couples transition into parenthood, they face a wide variety of challenges as the family system adds a new member, and many pre-existing roles and patterns of interaction between partners require adaptation. On average, when couples have their first child, there is an increase in conflict (Kluwer & Johnson, 2007), less leisure time to spend with each other (Claxton & Perry-Jenkins, 2008), less satisfaction with the division of household labor (Kluwer, Heesink, & Van De Vliert, 2002), and a decline in sexual satisfaction and intimacy (Pacey, 2004). In a review of existing literature, Gottman and Notarius (2000) suggested that 40-70% of first-time parents experience a decline in relationship quality across this transition. This decline in relationship quality is important because new parents' with a lower relationship quality is linked with negative health problems for the parents (e.g., Kiecolt-Glaser & Newton, 2001), less effective parenting (Grych, 2002), negative child outcomes (Cummings, Goeke-Morey, & Papp, 2003), and parental divorce (Cowan & Cowan, 1992). Understanding the risk factors and protective factors of relationship quality among new parents is important for prevention efforts and clinical treatment with couples adjusting to parenthood.

Although studies have documented an overall steeper rate of decline in relationship quality in new parents than comparable nonparent couples (Doss, Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009; Lawrence, Rothman, Cobb, Rothman, & Bradbury, 2008; Twenge, Campbell, & Foster, 2003), little attention has been paid to what both parents can actually do that may be associated with higher relationship quality in the postpartum period. The purpose of this study is to provide a stronger empirical foundation from which to understand the interconnectedness within and between romantic partners on parental stress, supportive coparenting, and relationship quality across the transition to parenthood. This study used a large, nationally representative, longitudinal dyadic sample of 848 couples to examine the effects of mothers' and fathers' parental stress and supportive coparenting on both parents' romantic relationship quality. This study advances research on coparenting in first-time parents by reporting empirical evidence that can be incorporated into relationship education and couples interventions for new parents. The reason this is important to study within first-time parents is because the coparenting relationship is most malleable as it is first being developed early in the transition to parenthood (Feinberg, 2002). Thus, therapists may be able to facilitate important changes in coparenting early on that can open possibilities for the couple to maintain a close relationship while attending to the needs of their child.

Theory

Coparenting is the quality of coordination between parents caring for their child (McHale, Kuersten-Hogan, & Rao, 2004). Coparenting support is a major component of coparenting that reflects the degree to which each parent affirms the competency of the other and demonstrates appreciation and respect for the other's contributions (Feinberg, 2002). Parental stress, on the other hand, is the feeling or condition experienced when a parent perceives the demands associated with parenting exceed the personal and social resources available to meet those demands (Cooper, McLanahan, Meadows, & Brooks-Gunn, 2009). The Ecological Model of Coparenting (Feinberg, 2003) proposes that parental stress, individual characteristics of the parents (e.g., attitudes, emotional, and mental health), and coparenting support are directly related to the nature of the couples' romantic relationship. More specifically, whereas parental stress is expected to undermine romantic relationships, coparenting support is expected to bolster parents' ability to maintain a strong relationship. Based on this, we expect that in the context of heightened parental stress from either partner, the perception of supportive coparenting will minimize the negative impact of stress on the couple's relationship. …

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