Becoming a parent changes a person’s life. Couples who experience the joy of having a child together also experience the drastic shifts their relationship undergoes from couplehood to parenthood. The sleepless nights, the additional financial burden, and the physical toll of caring for a child can cause significant distress. The spontaneity that was enjoyed before children must be carefully crafted. All of these changes can upset a loving relationship. Research has shown that programs designed to help partners make the transition from couplehood to parenthood can have a positive impact. But few studies have examined how these types of classes help men versus women, and if their effectiveness is dependent upon the teacher.
To explore these questions, Jemima F. Petch of Relationships Australia Queensland in Eight Miles Plains, Australia, recently conducted a study that compared two types of relationship education programs in new parents. Petch assigned 125 expectant couples to the Couple CARE for Parents (CCP) program, a class designed to enhance parenting and relationship skills. Another 125 couples expecting their first child were assigned to a traditional mother-focused skills class called Becoming a Parent (BAP). The couples were assessed after they completed the program, and again 4, 16, and 28 months after they gave birth. Petch evaluated the parents through observations and self-reports to gauge their levels of stress and their overall relationship satisfaction.
Petch found that the participants in the CCP program had higher levels of relationship satisfaction and fewer conflicts than those in the BAP program, however the differences were moderate. Specifically, the results showed that CCP was most effective at reducing stress in high-risk women. In those with relatively positive relationships prior to childbirth, CCP had little effect. With respect to parenting skills, both interventions seemed to have similar results. Petch also found that the majority of couples in the study had declines in relationship satisfaction after they welcomed their child. She also discovered another interesting result. Petch said, “CCP had no detectable effect on relationship adjustment for low-risk couples, but reduced rates of relationship distress by half in high-risk couples.” The other noticeable effect revealed in her study was that the outcome was directly influenced by the teacher. The participants who enrolled in the program taught by highly trained nurse midwives saw much smaller gains than those taught by psychologists. This suggests that although the midwives were trained in the specifics of the class, the experience and education that psychologists possess may provide them with the additional skills and resources necessary to achieve sustainable results.
Petch, J. F., Halford, W. K., Creedy, D. K., Gamble, J. (2012). A randomized controlled trial of a couple relationship and coparenting program (Couple CARE for Parents) for high- and low-risk new parents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028781
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