How representations of the parental marriage predict marital quality between partners during the transition to parenthood
MetadataShow full item record
This study examined how couples’ representations of the parental marriage predict emotional attunement between marital partners prenatally and following the transition to parenthood, 24 months postpartum. Couple partners (N = 121) were interviewed individually about their parents’ marriage prenatally. Two aspects of these representations were assessed: content (memories of conflict, affection, and communication in the parents’ marriage) and process (making connections between their own and their parents’ marriage and presenting a believable, consistent picture of the parents’ marriage). Emotional attunement (i.e., dyadic emotional communication and connection) was rated from couple interactions observed prenatally and at 24 months (N = 89 couples). Surra and Bohman (1991) proposed that during relatively stable times in couple relationships, individuals use lower order, automatic processing when evaluating relationships, whereas their thinking during relatively unstable times is characterized by higher order, extensive processing. Thus, it was hypothesized that individuals would automatically recreate the content of the marital patterns they recalled from childhood in their own marital interactions prenatally, since this is assumed to be a relatively stable time compared to the postnatal period. Based on attachment theory and methods (Bowlby, 1973, 1980, 1988; Main, Goldwyn, & Hesse, 2002), it was also hypothesized that individuals high on process would score higher on emotional attunement both prenatally and postnatally, since they should view their parents’ marriage more objectively and work on avoiding negative aspects of their parents’ marriage at any time. The role of content during the relatively unstable postnatal period is less clear, however. When high-processing individuals automatically draw on recollections of the parental marriage, will they recreate positive recollections, or will positive memories result in disappointment and reduced emotional attunement? Results from path analyses revealed that prenatally, husbands and wives high on process showed higher emotional attunement toward their partner. Postnatally, wives who recalled low content using high process showed a greater increase in emotional attunement toward their partner than did wives in other groups, indicating that for high processing women, anticipating some problems and stresses about marriage following the transition to parenthood may result in greater attention to the marital relationship.