Couple Relationships Over the Transition to Parenthood
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Research indicates that the entry into parenthood is a significant stressor on couples’ romantic relationships. During the transition to parenthood, the majority of couple suffering declines in relationship satisfaction; however a minority sustain, or even improve, the quality of their relationship during this time. The aim of this thesis is to gain a phenomenological understanding of the factors affecting couple interactions after childbirth, and to explore what might be helpful in supporting relationship quality during this time. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in order to learn about participants’ lived and contextualized experience of their couple relationships over the parental transition. Participants were age 25 or older, living with their partner for at least 3 years prior to childbirth, and their first child was between the ages of two and five. Five participants were mothers and five were fathers. As reported in previous research, the majority of this sample reported significant declines in intimacy within the couple relationship. However to characterize participants’ experiences in terms of ―global satisfaction‖ ignores the nuanced and multifaceted findings that emerged in these interviews. Thematic analysis of interview transcripts revealed five predominant themes: (1) structural change, (2) the impact of influences external to the couple interactions, (3) the positive or negative effects of emotional momentum, and (4) how the perception of freedom and agency affects the couple relationship. The theme of Structural Change occurred most frequently throughout the interviews; changes to the family structure affect the couple relationship by interrupting established patterns, depleting available resources, re-orienting the couple‘s focus, and through the impact of parent-child relationships upon the couple relationship. These findings are discussed in the context of Attachment Theory, the Gottmans’ Sound Marital House Theory, and Systems Theory. The family is viewed as a microsystem shaped by intrapersonal, interpersonal and external processes across the parental transition. Among the many factors that appeared to mitigate losses and qualitative relational decline were community involvement, constructive interpersonal communications and support, shared values and purpose, intentional behaviours, and sense of personal agency.