Nearly half of the children born today are born to unmarried parents. Cohabitating is becoming more and more popular in modern culture. In Europe and in the United States, the majority of married couples report that they lived together before getting married. Research has compared the satisfaction levels of married couples versus cohabitating couples and has consistently shown that couples who live together are significantly less happy with their relationships than married couples. Although having a child can bring immense joy and emotional closeness, it has also been shown to decrease relationship satisfaction in couples regardless of their marital status. But until recently, few studies have looked at how parenthood affects relationship satisfaction of married women compared to women who live with their partners. To address this void in research, Oystein Mortensen of the Psychology Department at the University of Bergen in Norway recently looked at the satisfaction levels of 71,504 women who were part of a larger study. He compared married women to unmarried women at four different times over 2 years after their first child was born.
In line with previous research, Mortensen found that the majority of the women experienced a decrease in satisfaction after the birth of their children, regardless of marital status. However, the women who were unwed exhibited lower levels of relationship satisfaction than the married women before giving birth and throughout the 2 years postpartum. This was evident across all economic and social classes. Mortensen also discovered that the satisfaction levels of married women were similar for women who were married before becoming pregnant and women who married during their pregnancy. This is particularly interesting because cohabitation without marriage before parenthood has been previously shown to negatively impact relationships even if the couples eventually marry. The results of this study clearly demonstrate the protective factor of marriage on new mothers. Mortensen believes that this study, although insightful, should be expanded upon to include fathers’ relationship satisfaction levels. He added, “Counselors, therapists, and other professionals should be particularly aware of the relationship satisfaction when dealing with cohabiting couples, not least in the transition to parenthood.”
Mortensen, O,, Torsheim, T., Melkevik, O., Thuen, F. Adding a baby to the equation. Married and cohabiting women’s relationship satisfaction in the transition to parenthood. Family Process 51.1 (2012): 122-39.
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