The transition to parenthood can be a challenging time for new parent couples, as a baby comes with changes and stress that can negatively influence new parents’ relational functioning in the form of reduced relationship satisfaction and disrupted partner social support. Yet, the transition to parenthood is also often experienced as a joyous time. In this research, we draw on the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions to suggest that new parents’ positive emotions are not merely an enjoyable distraction, but are instead central to their relational adjustment. Specifically, we hypothesized that new parents who experienced greater positive emotions would report enhanced relationship satisfaction and partner social support across time. To test these ideas, we drew on two dyadic and longitudinal studies of new parents. In Study 1, 104 couples (208 individuals) completed surveys across the course of 1 year, and in Study 2, 192 couples (384 individuals) completed surveys and a laboratory-based social support interaction over the course of 2 years. At each wave of data collection, participants completed assessments of positive emotions, relationship satisfaction, and partner social support. We examined how actor and partner positive emotions longitudinally predicted relational adjustment across time. Results demonstrated that, even when controlling for baseline levels of each outcome variable, greater actor reports of positive emotions prospectively predicted greater subsequent actor (a) relationship satisfaction, (b) perceptions of social support from the partner, and (c) enacted social support as rated by independent observers, a pattern that was especially prominent for fathers. These results suggest positive emotions may be a resource that fosters healthy relational adjustment during chronically stressful periods that threaten intimate relationships, including during the transition to parenthood
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The data for Study 1 was supported by a grant to Kristin D. Mickelson from the Ohio Board of Regents. The data for Study 2 was collected in Bryan, Texas, from 2002 to 2006 and was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health under Award MH49599 to Jeffry A. Simpson and W. Steven Rholes. Brian P. Don and Sara B. Algoe's work on this paper was supported by a grant from The John Templeton Foundation (ID: 61280) to Sara B. Algoe.
© 2021 American Psychological Association
- positive emotions
- relationship satisfaction
- social support
- transition to parenthood