Parents and partners
The Magic Moment
Research shows that becoming parents can put an enormous strain on a couple’s relationship, but it’s also a time when partners feel motivated and open to making changes to their behaviour. Something researchers have termed the ‘Magic Moment’.
Mothers want the help of fathers in raising their children, and fathers want to be part of their children’s lives. This desire to be involved with and do the best for their baby means both parents often try hard to get along and make improvements to their relationship that will increase family stability. Many unmarried couple think highly of marriage soon after the birth of their baby, and research suggests an increase in relationship satisfaction for between 18% and 30% of new parents.
But however positively parenthood is viewed and anticipated by the couple, there will be some difficulty or loss encountered when old patterns of life no longer fit and they are forced to develop and settle into a new routine.
Relationship satisfaction tends to decline for women first: disenchantment can arise from pregnancy to the first year of parenthood. For men the decline occurs later, often in the second year of the child’s life.
Research suggests an increase in relationship satisfaction for between 18% and 30% of new parents
Men and women develop an identity as a parent between pregnancy and six to 18 months postpartum. As this identity grows larger, individuals often feel the part of them that is a partner/lover becomes smaller. This has been linked with a decline in marital satisfaction in men.
The Vicious Cycle
Declines in relationship satisfaction may also be linked to role conflict, and what is known as the ‘Vicious Cycle’.
Research has found that men do less to help around the house after having a baby than before, with many undertaking fewer tasks related to caring for the children than may have been anticipated prior to the birth. Men tend to focus on being good providers, but women sometimes construe their work as a way of avoiding family involvement, placing stress on the relationship.
The Vicious Cycle often occurs when the mother feels unsupported by her partner, causing her to become dissatisfied with the relationship. This makes her critical of her partner and conflict rises. The father then becomes dissatisfied with the relationship and less involved with the child, leaving the mother to feel unsupported again.
The Virtuous Cycle
The cycle can, of course, begin at any of these points and men often withdraw from involvement if their partner appears to be too critical of their efforts when they do try to help out.
But thanks to the ‘Magic Moment’, interventions at this stage are often successful and, with increased awareness and the provision of support, parents can turn the Vicious Cycle into a Virtuous Cycle. See diagram below.
- Changes for me and us - theCoupleConnection.net's online course for new parents