Parenthood is thought to bring couples closer together, but it can also be a trying experience that has the potential to tear them apart. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that after having a child, marital satisfaction significantly decreases.
Marriage is a very important bond that can be integral to an individual’s life satisfaction and well-being. Research has shown that married couples are happier in general than unmarried or cohabitating couples. Despite this, marital satisfaction changes over time, and one time with great potential for change is after becoming parents.
The transition to parenthood can be a life event that brings profound and challenging adjustments for couples. This study seeks to understand how the transition to parenthood affects couples and if childless couples experience changes in satisfaction as well.
Study author Ionela Bogdan and her colleagues examined a total of 49 studies for their meta-analysis that consisted of 106 independent samples and 145,139 individual participants. They selected research relating to new parenthood that included both prepartum and postpartum marital satisfaction measures. Studies needed to be peer-reviewed and published in English. To account for participants without children, four studies of marital satisfaction were included using childless couples, where satisfaction was measured at least twice.
The researchers found that marital satisfaction significantly decreases from pregnancy to a year after birth for partners of both genders. “Our results seem to support the idea that marital satisfaction’s decline is significant and quite abrupt for up to 1 year postpartum,” the researchers said.
Nonparents with similar lengths of their relationship showed a small decrease in marital satisfaction, which was less than the drop in satisfaction for new parents. While the parental decrease is thought to be due to stresses associated with caring for children, the nonparental decrease is thought to be due to disillusionment or fading of a honeymoon phase.
Additionally, marital satisfaction continued to decrease, albeit at a lower rate, between one year and two years postpartum for parents of both genders. When one partner had a sharp decrease in satisfaction after having a child, the other partner was likely to mirror that with a steep decrease of their own.
This study took significant strides into better understanding postpartum marriage satisfaction. Despite this, there are some limitations to note. Firstly, a meta-analysis combines a lot of information, but does carry any limitations of the original studies utilized. Additionally, there was no comparative 1-to-2-year postpartum data for nonparents to compare the parental decrease to. Lastly, the nonparent sample was much less established than the parent samples; future research could gather more data on nonparent married couples.
“Concerning the therapeutical inferences, we want to conclude with three practical implications,” the researchers wrote. “First, when delivering parenthood educational training to couples, practitioners should know that pre-pregnancy levels of marital satisfaction will tend to contract spouses’ evaluations of the marriage after the baby is born, but the decline is lower when parents have realistic expectations about parenthood.”
“Second, professionals should be aware that a medium decrease in marital satisfaction is common in first-time parents. Knowing that transition to parenthood moderately affects marital satisfaction for the average couple and that the couple’s satisfaction before the birth of the first child is a strong predictor of how couples manage this transition suggests the need to build dyadic interventions before the baby arrives and a long time after.”
“Third, family counselors should know that marital satisfaction continues to decrease in the second year after childbirth,” the researchers explained. “A realistic view of marital quality during the transition to parenthood should help spouses manage this period better.”
The study, “Transition to Parenthood and Marital Satisfaction: A Meta-Analysis“, was authored by Ionela Bogdan, Maria Nicoleta Turliuc, and Octav Sorin Candel.