Mindfulness-Based Relationship Education for Couples Expecting Their First Child-Part 2: Phenomenological Findings

By Gambrel, Laura Eubanks; Piercy, Fred P. | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Mindfulness-Based Relationship Education for Couples Expecting Their First Child-Part 2: Phenomenological Findings


Gambrel, Laura Eubanks, Piercy, Fred P., Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


The majority of babies born in the United States are born to couples, and most couples experience a significant decline in relationship satisfaction after the birth of their first child (Cowan & Cowan, 2002). Though there are many premarital programs to educate and support couples through the transition to marriage, programs that focus on the transition to parenthood are less available (Glade, Bean, & Yira, 2005; Schulz, Cowan, & Cowan, 2006; Shapiro & Gottman, 2005), and even fewer use mindfulness-based interventions. To meet this need, the first author developed the Mindful Transition to Parenthood Program to strengthen and maintain couple relationships through the birth of their first child. This program is based on the theoretical framework of interpersonal neurobiology (Siegel, 1999) and seeks to promote attunement skills, both intrapersonal and interpersonal, throughout the program. Mindfulness training is a core aspect of this program. Mindfulness can promote empathy and greater relationship satisfaction for couples (Barnes, Brown, Krusemark, Campbell, & Rogge, 2007; Carson, Carson, Gil, & Baucom, 2004; Wachs & Cordova, 2007). Mindfulness has been useful for prenatal populations to lower pain during child-birth and reduce the risk of postpartum depression (Hughes et al., 2009).

In this article, the authors present qualitative findings from thirteen couples who have completed the program. The phenomenological investigation of this study is Part 2 of a two-part mixed methods study to evaluate this program; Part 1 includes quantitative and mixed methods results (see Gambrel & Piercy, this issue). Couples in the program reported that the program improved their emotion regulation abilities, relational functioning, and preparedness for parenthood, thus adding to the preliminary support for the benefits of this program reported in Part 1 (Gambrel & Piercy, this issue).

TRANSITION TO PARENTHOOD AND THE COUPLE RELATIONSHIP

Relationship satisfaction is related to many positive outcomes for adults. These include higher immune function (Kiecolt-Glaser, Glaser, Cacioppo, & Malarkey, 1998), lessened risk of heart disease (Robles & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2003), increased physical health (Umberson, Williams, Powers, Liu, & Needham, 2006; Windsor, Ryan, & Smith, 2009), lower risk of depression (Kamp Dush, Taylor, & Kroeger, 2008), higher overall happiness and life satisfaction (Hawkins & Booth, 2005; Kamp Dush et al., 2008), and longer life expectancy (Kiecolt-Glaser et ah, 1998; Robles & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2003).

The majority of couples experience significant relational decline after the birth of their first child (Doss, Rhoades, Stanley, & Markman, 2009). These declines are related to increased conflict in the couple relationship and heighten risk of divorce and relationship dissolution that often accompany parenthood (Belsky & Kelly, 1995; Cherlin, 1981; Cowan & Cowan, 2000; Schulz et ah, 2006; Shapiro, Gottman, & Carrère, 2000). At the same time, parenting also can add fulfillment to adults' lives. Though not true of all people, married couples with children have been found to report greater meaning and purpose in their lives, and in mid- to later life may be happier and more satisfied with their lives and their relationships than their child-free peers (Hanson, 2012; Wilcox & Marquardt, 2012).

Children are also affected by their parents' couple relationship. Parents who have conflict and poorer relationship quality are less likely to have positive relationships with their children (Yu, Pettit, Lansford, Dodge, & Bates, 2010). High marital conflict has been linked to conduct disorder, depression, anxiety, poor academic performance, and antisocial behavior in children regardless of parents' marital status (Amato & Keith, 1991; Cummings & Davies, 1994; Elliott & Richards, 1991; Zill, Morrison, & Coiro, 1993). In fact, conflict among parents may be more of an issue for children than divorce itself (Kelly, 2000). …

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