Changes in Marital Satisfaction Across the Transition to Parenthood: The Role of Adult Attachment Orientations
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For parents, the birth of their first child sparks rapid change for each partner and for their romantic relationship. With the stress of the transition to parenthood, many couples experience declining marital satisfaction. However, previous studies have reported wide variation in the magnitude and time course of this decline. The present study sought to determine the trajectory of marital satisfaction across the first 2 years of parenthood. The study also examined the role of anxious and avoidant attachment, as well as relationship dynamics that prevent or augment declines in satisfaction for anxious and avoidant individuals. Data were collected from couples in five assessment waves: 6 weeks before the birth of the first child, and 6, 12, 18, and 24 months postbirth. Both partners completed self-report measures of attachment orientations and relevant situational stressors. It was hypothesized that, for insecurely attached partners, declines in marital satisfaction would be associated with the inability to pursue attachment-related goals. Thus, satisfaction should decline when: 1) anxious individuals are unable to increase proximity to their partners; and 2) avoidant individuals are unable to increase distance from their partners. Growth curve models examined changes in satisfaction over time, moderated by gender, attachment orientation (anxiety or avoidance), and situational stressors. Results yielded three key findings, which largely supported the hypotheses. First, for highly anxious individuals, satisfaction was lower or declined when they perceived their partners as less supportive and more negative toward them, and when they felt their babies interfered more in their romantic relationship. Second, for highly avoidant individuals, satisfaction was lower or declined when they felt their babies interfered more in leisure activities, and when they perceived more work-family conflict and more demands from their families. Third, an interesting pattern of gender differences emerged, such that satisfaction often declined more steeply in insecure men than women. Exploratory analyses revealed additional moderators of the attachment-satisfaction relationship. These are discussed as they relate to the goals of insecurely attached individuals. Findings suggest that attachment insecurities predict dissatisfaction in new parents primarily when situational stressors block the pursuit of secondary attachment goals.
Rentfro, Jamie Leigh (2011). Changes in Marital Satisfaction Across the Transition to Parenthood: The Role of Adult Attachment Orientations. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from