Hopelessly Devoted? Relationship Quality During and After Incarceration
A study of nearly two-thousand parents in the US investigated the effects of imprisonment on couple’s relationships. They focused on four key areas – change in relationship quality, supportiveness, emotional abuse, and physical abuse. The study looked separately at families where the father was currently in prison, and at families where the father had recently been released.
The main finding was that amongst families where the father had recently been released, mothers often reported a subsequent decline in relationship quality and supportiveness. However this same dip in relationship was not reported by the fathers.
Interestingly, for families where the father was currently in prison, mothers often reported a slight increase in supportiveness, and similarly fathers reported an increase in their relationship quality. Although unexpected, this may be because the sentence led them to reaffirm their commitment to each other.
These findings suggest that the negative affects of imprisonment on a relationship are most serious not while the couple are separated, but after they come back together. The findings also highlight a common and unfortunate problem – that often the most negative impacts fall on the family, punishing those who have not committed a crime.