Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marital Perceptions and Interactions across the Transition to Parenthood

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marital Perceptions and Interactions across the Transition to Parenthood

Article excerpt

Observed interaction of couples during a problemsolving task and self-reports of spouses concerning their marriage were investigated before the birth of their first child and at 3, 12, and 24 months after the birth of the child. The study focuses on the impact of a first child's birth on the marriage. Hierarchical linear model analyses were performed. Patterns of change in the marital relationship were related to whether the pregnancy was planned, to depressive symptoms of spouses, to the couple's problem-solving behavior, and to the gender of the child.

There is a long history of research on the transition to parenthood as a crisis for couples, and the premise of much of that literature is that becoming a parent is a risk factor for individual and marital distress. Many cross-sectional studies have documented the negative correlation between the presence of children and marital satisfaction (e.g., Glenn & McLanahan, 1982; Miller, 1976). Additionally, several longitudinal studies that followed couples from before the birth of the child through a period after the birth show overall linear declines in marital satisfaction (Belsky, Lange & Rovine, 1985; Cowan et al., 1985; Feldman & Nash, 1984). More recently, however, scholars are calling for studies that go beyond documenting declines in marital satisfaction and that illuminate the variety of adaptations couples make and the factors related to different adaptations (Belsky & Rovine, 1990; Cox, 1985; Huston & Vangelista, 1995; Cowan & Cowan, 1992). Not only each partner's satisfaction with the marriage should be of interest, but also observations of the couple's interactions. In the study presented here, both spouses' perceptions of their marriage and their behavior during a marital problem-solving task were investigated before the birth of their first child and at 3, 12, and 24 months after the birth. The study focused on the impact of a first child's birth on the marnage. We assumed that couples would show a variety of adaptations.

BACKGROUND

Patterns of Change

Transitions are times when a marriage may be particularly vulnerable because the relationship has to be reorganized to meet new challenges. Yet, parenthood actually may enhance some relationships, undermine others, and have little effect on others (Cox, 1985; Huston & Vangelisti, 1995). Some couples may develop new skills in resolving problems, for example, and others may find resolving problems a major difficulty. As Cowan (1991) has noted, "a central task for researchers is to determine the conditions under which both normative and nonnormative events stimulate developmental advances, produce dysfunctional crises, or leave the individual and the family relatively unchanged" (p. 5). Identifying couples who are likely to experience increased marital difficulty in the transition to parenthood is important in order to focus preventive efforts on the most vulnerable couples. At the same time, understanding the strengths of couples whose relationships are enhanced by the experience of parenthood or for whom the experience has minimal negative impact also may inform intervention. Couples who not only show distress in response to the birth of a child, but who also fail to show recovery over time may be of particular concern. Initial difficulties in a transition may be normative, but the lack of reorganization over time may be a sign of chronic problems that are likely to influence parenting and child development negatively.

The possibility of such different patterns highlights the importance of considering transitions as processes over time (Cox, 1985) and the importance of using methods that can capture this process. When data are gathered from parents on only one or two occasions soon after the birth of the child, short-term fluctuations in satisfaction may be detected, but more gradually emerging effects remain undiscovered. If one expects an initial change in the marital relationship followed by recovery over the first 2 years, data that longitudinally cover that period are needed. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.