Navigating parenthood together: Exploring relationship satisfaction and commitment in first-time parents

By Malia Artibello

This blog is a summary of our published article: Leonhardt, N. D., Rosen, N. O., Dawson, S. J., Kim, J. J., Johnson, M. D., & Impett, E. A. (2022). Relationship satisfaction and commitment in the transition to parenthood: A couple-centered approach. Journal of Marriage and Family84(1), 80–100.

As a couple transitions into the world of parenthood (prenatal to 12 months postpartum), they enter a period full of new experiences. This can be a very exciting time, but also brings new challenges. These challenges can understandably take a toll on a couples’ relationship satisfaction and may impact their commitment to one another [1]. Due to all the changes that occur when welcoming a new baby, it is an ideal time to study both relationship satisfaction and commitment [2].

In our study, we aimed to understand a couples’ relationship satisfaction and commitment over the transition to parenthood. Specifically, we simultaneously assessed relationship satisfaction and commitment, and examined several biological (such as type of delivery and time in NICU), psychological (optimism, pessimism, and self-esteem) and social (attachment avoidance, self-expansion, and commitment) factors which may influence relationship satisfaction and commitment.

What did we do?

We asked 203 first-time parent couples (including mixed- and same-sex couples) to complete online questionnaires on relationship satisfaction and commitment at six different time points: 20- and 32-weeks pregnant, and 3-, 6-, 9-, and 12-months postpartum. Participants also used self-report measures to describe their sociodemographic information and measures of biopsychosocial factors (such as type of delivery, self-esteem, and attachment orientations) at either 22- or at 32-weeks pregnant. Biopsychosocial measures were included to examine additional variables that may be relevant to relationship adjustment across parenthood.

What did we find?

We identified four couple categories for relationship satisfaction: Highly Satisfied Couples, Mothers Postpartum Decline and Steady Partners, Postpartum Declining Couples, and Mothers Pregnancy Decline and Steady Partners. As well as three couple categories for relationship commitment: Highly Committed Couples, Highly Committed Mothers and Moderately Committed Partners, and Mothers Postpartum Decline and Partners Pregnancy Decline.

Many mothers and partners reported being highly satisfied in their relationship; these couples did not show a decline in relationship satisfaction over time. However, a small subset of mothers’ and partners’ relationship satisfaction did significantly decline after three months post-partum.

The majority of couples reported being highly committed to their partner and relationship, these couples did not experience a decline in commitment over time. A small portion of mothers reported a decline in relationship commitment after three months postpartum, their partners also showed a decline in commitment, which was evident from baseline to three months postpartum.

Biopsychosocial Factors

Relationship Satisfaction. Regarding differences in biopsychosocial factors between categories, we found that in Postpartum Declining Couples, mothers reported significantly lower levels of pessimism. We also found that Highly Satisfied Couples displayed low attachment avoidance and high rates of perceived partner commitment compared to all other couple categories. We found no differences across biological factors on relationship satisfaction.

Relationship Commitment. Along with Highly Satisfied Couples, Highly Committed Couples also displayed low attachment avoidance and high rates of perceived partner commitment compared to all other couple categories. For biological factors we found that Highly Committed Mothers and Moderately Committed Partners were less likely to spend time in the NICU than Highly Committed Couples. We found no differences across psychological factors on relationship commitment.

What does this mean?

Our findings suggest that many couples retain high relationship satisfaction and commitment across the transition to parenthood, while only a small number of couples experience declines in their relationship commitment and satisfaction. Couples who are highly committed and satisfied in their relationship pre-parenthood were shown to be stable in their commitment and satisfaction across the transition to parenthood; these couples may fare better when navigating the new challenges of parenthood. For a smoother transition to parenthood, it may be beneficial for couples to participate in interventions to improve their relationship before welcoming their child [3]. It may also be beneficial for physicians to offer psychoeducation for expecting couples to assist them in maintaining their relationship satisfaction and wellbeing across the transition to parenthood.


[1] Trillingsgaard, T., Baucum, J. W., Heyman, R. E. (2014). Predictors of change in relationship satisfaction during the transition to parenthood. Family Relations63(5), 667–679.

[2] Kluwer, E. S. (2010). From partnership to parenthood: A review of marital change across the transition to parenthood. Journal of Family Theory & Review2(2), 105–125. https://doi-org/10.1111/j.1756-2589.2010.00045.x

[3] Doss, B. D., Cicila, L. N., Hsueh, A. C., Morrison, K. R., & Carhart, K. (2014). A randomized controlled trial of brief coparenting and relationship interventions during the transition to parenthood. Journal of Family Psychology28(4), 483–494.