Posted by: Dr. Justin D'Arienzo, Psy.D., ABPP
The transition to parenthood, also known as the TTP, is an emotionally diverse time where new parents simultaneously feel excessive joy and stress. Evidence suggests the differing positive and negative emotions of the TTP resides an overall negative effect on relationship functioning. The relationship functioning of parents and non-parents merge as children age, enhancing effective couple-focused interventions to decline the rate of deterioration within new parent relationships. Different theories, trajectories, groups, and other moderators all effect the romantic relationships and individual functions of couples.
According to psychologists and the social learning perspective, most couples undergo changes in roles and demands along with the challenges to balance other new parent responsibilities. The precarious transition leads to a decrease in relationship functioning and increase in specialization of parental roles. The additive stressors of balancing new roles and responsibilities may cause attachment insecurity shown through a disruption or alternation in parent attachment working models when entering the TTP. Parents with high levels of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles have proven to have poorer post-birth conflict resolution skills. The new pressure for couples to work together, specifically fathers becoming more involved in caregiving and role shifts, demonstrates why the TTP is a strenuous time.
The trajectory of a couple’s relationship functioning after a child is born is the most factual way of examining the ‘effect’ of the TTP. Unmarried, adoptive, and same-sex parents all experience stronger declines in relationship dedication, romantic love, and ‘couple’ time when going through the TTP. Cohabitating couples experience a downturn in life satisfaction considering that the TTP opposes the cultural norm of having children after marriage. Though more research is needed, some adoptive parents report non-significant increases in relationship quality while others disclose increased conflict. For lesbian and gay male couples, the TTP timeframe is stressful as both parties claim experiencing weakened quality time together and sexual satisfaction.
Poorer mental health and high levels of relationship conflict during pregnancy both predict worsening relationship satisfaction and functioning. A child born early on within a couple’s relationship proves to decline relationship functioning while unplanned pregnancies are only hypothesized to have greater declines. Noticeably, an infant with a higher level of negative reactivity and disrupted sleep pattern correlates to a decline in post-birth relationship functioning.
Attempts to create interventions for assisting new parents experiencing the TTP has been treacherous, as these programs present minor effects on communication and relationship satisfaction. Most success with the TTP couple interventions subside in high-risk couples. Significantly improving and emerging research on the TTP has identified the similarities and differences across parents and non-parents, being unmarried, adoptive/IVF, or same-sex couples. Research has concluded that the regress in relationship functioning is associated with the TTP in the average couple; minding that not all couples experience post-birth struggles, as some couples see improvements within their relationship.
D’Arienzo Psychology offers assistance to new parents experiencing adjustment challenges after the birth of a new child. Our psychologists, counselors, and therapists can provide you with the necessary strategies to make this a more positive transition for you and your new family.
Article was written by D’Arienzo Psychology’s undergraduate psychology intern and UNF student, Alexis Hartman (2021)