When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change for Couples

By Carolyn Pape Cowan; Philip A. Cowan | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

Without a doubt the highest risk point for divorce is the first seven years of marriage. Half of all the divorces in the life course occur in the first seven years ( Cherlin, 1981). The Cowans found that the divorce rate in 5 years was 50% among childless couples and 20% among those who became parents. Hence, staying childless does not guarantee marital bliss.

By far the couples who go on to become parents are in the majority; estimates are that about 90% of couples will have children. LeMasters ( 1957), more than four decades ago, warned us that this transition to parenthood was very stressful for most couples, but at the time his warning led only to an academic controversy.

Thank God that controversy has now largely been resolved. We now know that something clearly happens during this transition to parenthood that has profound implications and that for most couples the difficulties of this transition will begin a cascade toward divorce.

After 15 longitudinal studies researchers know quite well the difficulties of the transition to parenthood. There is also now no doubt about how becoming parents affects individual lives and marriages. Depression and anxiety are common reactions, not unusual reactions of both men and women. Many of these effects are purely the result of sleeplessness and exhaustion. Marital conflict increases, often by a whopping factor of nine

-xix-

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