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Relationship Support Trials for New Parents: Evaluation Technical Report

Research Report

Much evidence exists around the breakdown of relationships and the unequivocal negative associations this has on adult physical and mental health (Coleman and Glenn, 2009). Breakdown in this context refers not only to couple separation but also a substantial decline in the quality of the relationship. Indeed, it is well evidenced that the health outcomes for some single people may be more positive than those reporting unhappy relationships (Murphy, 2007).

Although the quality of a couple relationship is generally considered to decline through time (Schulz et al, 2006), there are a number of transition points where this erosion of relationship quality is accelerated. One of the most significant times, traditionally early in the couple relationship, is the transition to new parenthood. There is robust evidence1 demonstrating the accelerated decline in relationship quality during this transition. The strains on a relationship during this transition are thought to include increased relationship conflict; more negative communication; managing the balance between work and family; less time available for conversation and sex; and increased sleeplessness, fatigue, irritability and depression (Shapiro and Gottman, 2005).

It is appropriate, therefore, that there has been much attention on looking at ways to smooth the transition to parenthood and stem the accelerated erosion of relationship quality during this time. Interventions such as the Family Foundations report statistically significant impacts on couple relationship quality (Feinberg et al 2010). ‘Couple Care for Parents’, a specific form of Couple Relationship Education, also prevented a decline in relationship satisfaction during this transition, especially for women (Halford et al 2010). Petch and Halford (2008) present a useful review of interventions and focus on the almost universal effectiveness of psycho-education programmes and conclude, of