Trait mindfulness (a person’s general tendency to be aware of their present moment experiences with an attitude of non-judgment and acceptance) is indirectly associated with greater relationship satisfaction during the transition to parenthood through its negative association with perceived stress, according to new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
The transition to parenthood is a period of significant change and adjustment for couples after the birth of their first child, characterized by new demands, personal and interpersonal changes, and potential distress. Previous research has suggested that individuals with higher levels of mindfulness experience lower levels of perceived stress. Therefore, the authors of the new study sought to examine whether higher mindfulness among new parents may be associated with lower perceived stress, which in turn may be related to greater relationship satisfaction.
“Often parents imagine their transition to parenthood as a period full of wonder and excitement,” said study author Julie C. Laurin, an associate professor at the University of Montreal. “Rarely do they anticipate the multifaceted stressors they will experience.”
“In reality, several changes compound each other, such as personal changes (i.e., identity development with a new parental role; work trajectories and planning one’s return to work), couple changes (i.e., decreased couple time, intimacy, relationship satisfaction, increased poor couple conflict management skills), family changes (family income, time at home, time for hobbies), as well as new and developing parental facets (coparenting, do the parents collaborate in their parenting? can they agree? Can they solve day-to-day issues like where does the child sleep at night?). This culmination can influence a downturn in their new parents’ relationship.”
“My graduate student, Laurence Morin, was interested in investigating whether parental traits can help parents during this challenging period. She was interested in the mindfulness trait, which can be improved through mindfulness practice. As such, parents could engage in targeted actions, like meditating, to aid themselves during this period. We were also interested in the family dynamics and how couple members can influence one another.”
The study’s sample included 78 couples (156 participants) between the ages of 21 and 47 years old. The participants took part in the study about six months after the birth of their first child. The participants were recruited through targeted Facebook ads and snowball sampling. Some couples were recruited before the COVID-19 pandemic, while others were recruited during the pandemic.
Most of the participants were heterosexual, not married, and had been in their relationship for an average of 6.5 years. The majority of participants were born in Canada, with a small percentage born in other regions of the world. The participants had varying levels of education, with the majority having completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Most childbearing parents were on maternity leave, while their partners worked full-time.
Each member of the couple completed a baseline questionnaire within 48 hours of each other. The baseline questionnaire collected socio-demographic data, relationship information, previous meditation experience, infant negative affectivity, and trait mindfulness levels.
To gather additional data, the participants downloaded a smartphone application called Metricwire. For the next 14 consecutive days, they received a notification at 7 p.m. to begin their evening diary entry on the Metricwire app, in which they reported their perceived stress and relationship satisfaction.
The researchers found that mindfulness was positively linked to relationship satisfaction for each parent. This means that when parents reported being more mindful, they experienced less perceived stress, which, in turn, was associated with higher relationship satisfaction.
These results align with previous research that indicates mindfulness can help individuals become more aware of their emotions and less judgmental towards them. Mindfulness also enables people to perceive their environment as less stressful, leading to enhanced relationship satisfaction.
When researchers looked at the overall impact of mindfulness, perceived stress, and relationship satisfaction on both partners in a relationship, they found that if one person in the relationship had higher levels of mindfulness, it was related to their partner having greater relationship satisfaction. This suggests that when one person in a couple is more mindful, it can have a positive influence on their partner’s satisfaction with the relationship.
“Trait mindfulness is associated with new parents feeling less stressed, which in turn was linked to them experiencing more relationship satisfaction during the transition to parenthood period,” Laurin told PsyPost. “Some bidirectional influences between partners were found linking mindfulness, stress and relationship satisfaction. When not defining a specific path, these results demonstrated that one parent’s mindfulness was related to their partner reporting more relationship satisfaction during the transition to parenthood.”
Surprisingly, there was no significant link between one person’s mindfulness and their partner’s relationship satisfaction.
“For each parent, the direct link between one’s mindfulness and their own relationship satisfaction was not significant when all the variables were in the model,” Laurin explained. “These variables were only linked through stress. This result means that stress fully explained the positive link between mindfulness and relationship satisfaction.”
The study’s correlational nature prevents the researchers from making conclusions about cause and effect. It is possible that there could be a bidirectional relationship between mindfulness and stress, as well as between stress and relationship satisfaction. For example, individuals who are more satisfied in their relationship may experience less stress, which could lead to increased mindfulness.
“Our results suggest that mindfulness may also be associated with relationship satisfaction through stress in couples from the general population (i.e., not in the transition to parenthood period), especially when exposed to life stressors, like work-related stressors or disease. Yet, this needs to be investigated further,” Laurin said.
“Previous research shows that trait mindfulness can be improved through formal mindfulness practice (e.g., meditation). As such, to improve their stress and relationship satisfaction during the transition to parenthood, new parents can practice meditation.”
The study, “Dyadic Association Between New Parents’ Mindfulness and Relationship Satisfaction: Mediating Role of Perceived Stress“, was authored by Laurence Morin, Julie C. Laurin, Marina Doucerain and Simon Gregoire.