Perceptions of Partner Responsiveness Across the Transition to Parenthood

Dave Smallen, Jami Eller, W. Steven Rholes, Jeffry A. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This longitudinal study examined associations between perceptions of partner responsiveness and relationship satisfaction of each partner (new parents) across the first 2 years of a chronically stressful life event—the transition to parenthood. Responsiveness indexes the degree to which partners respond to each other with understanding, validation, and care. Consistent with prior work, lower ratings of responsiveness receipt and provision predicted declines in relationship satisfaction across the transition. These effects, however, were moderated by parental stress, such that among newparents who reported experiencing higher levels of parental stress, providing higher levels of responsiveness to partners was associated with declines in relationship satisfaction. Conversely, under lower stress, relationship satisfaction benefited from higher levels of both providing and receiving responsiveness. All of these effects held when controlling for both partners’ levels of agreeableness, neuroticism, support-seeking, income, and work–family conflict. Post hoc moderation analyses revealed that high stress partners who reported providing higher responsiveness reported larger declines in relationship satisfaction if they scored higher in attachment avoidance or had more negative social exchanges with their partner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)618-629
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 9 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant MH49599 to Jeffry A. Simpson and W. Steven Rholes. There has been no prior dissemination of this study. Preregistration of this study may be viewed at:

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. American Psychological Association


  • Dyadic modeling
  • Relationship satisfaction
  • Responsiveness
  • Stress
  • Transition to parenthood


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