Becoming parents marks a significant transition that can strain a marriage. Understanding what to expect can help you prepare.

Transitioning to Parenthood and Marital SatisfactionThe journey into parenthood stands as the primary milestone for a new couple. Traditionally, there was an expectation that this phase would be filled with bliss, but the field has evolved from this notion over the last half-century.

Early studies in the 1950s and 1970s were doubted due to their revelation of relatively high levels of marital dissatisfaction.

Recent research by Esther Kluwer (2010) indicates a dip in marital satisfaction during this phase, although discontent rates seem lower than those in previous generations (Twenge et al., 2003).

Challenges in the TransitionMeta-research highlights the significant impact of parenthood transition, particularly on new mothers, who may experience decreased satisfaction. Issues like division of labor and uncertainties about leisure time and shared activities often contribute to a sense of unease for mothers.

Looking through the lens of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), research suggests that the initial signs of future dynamics between partners, such as pursuing or distancing behaviors, start during this period (Kluwer, 2010). Attachment needs surface vulnerably during this time, with mothers seeking reassurance: “Can I rely on you? Will our needs be equally valued?”

Transitioning into parenthood doesn’t guarantee a drop in marital satisfaction. But it does demands new skills, teamwork, and empathy.

According to recent meta-analysis, around half of expectant couples experience a decrease in marital satisfaction, while the other half don’t.

Interestingly, outliers were observed: 13% encountered a severe satisfaction decline, whereas 19% reported increased satisfaction. Whether you are happier or miserable has a lot to do with what your expectations are. Couples that had more traditional family arrangements typically are happier, because they get what they were expecting. In contrast, couples that were hoping for a more equal sharing of domestic and childrearing labor were often deeply disappointed.

Among those with a sharp decline, notably, were cohabitating couples. Another researcher suggested that an Anxious Attachment style correlated with lower marital satisfaction during the transition to parenthood.

Transition to parenthood other known stressors

Many stressors impact marital happiness at the transition to parenthood.

  • Husband Working Overtime
  • Either Parent Working on the Night Shift
  • Unhappiness with Work Situation or Career
  • Relative Fussiness of the Infant, and resulting sleep deprivation of the parents.
  • The gender of the baby is Correlated to Happiness. You guessed it. Daughters are less satisfying. But we think that this is related to other research which suggests that fathers interact andl play more with sons than they do their daughter.
  • Husbands Degree of Fondness Toward his Wife

Transition to parenthood as seen through a systemic lens

Viewing the transition to parenthood through a systemic perspective unveils crucial insights. Gottman’s research highlighted the significance of a young father’s engagement with their partner during the first year, correlating it with their partner’s subsequent calmness and satisfaction during this phase.

Undoubtedly, this transition is a pivotal and challenging milestone in a marriage. Increased conflict during pregnancy corresponded to lower relational quality during the transition to parenthood.

Moreover, lower relationship quality during pregnancy predicted higher conflict levels during this phase. Notably, frequent conflict appeared more influential than the quality of the relationship in determining satisfaction. Poorly managed conflict contributes to relationship erosion.

Essentially, the shift to parenthood often exacerbates existing relational issues, fueling marital conflict during this critical period.

Getting help early makes a big difference

Assisting couples in tackling early relational challenges could bolster their overall satisfaction in the relationship.

The pivotal takeaway from this study emphasizes that entering parenthood doesn’t necessarily introduce new stressors. Instead, it amplifies existing underlying relational weaknesses. This underscores the value of science-based pre-marital counseling as an invaluable resource for young couples.

These findings underscore a complex yet discernible link between the frequency of conflicts and the quality of relationships. Insights like these will shape the development of new couples therapy approaches, aiding these young couples as they navigate the transformative journey into parenthood.

Originally published November 14, 2017