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The transition to parenthood, especially with a first child, creates a fundamental life change for the couple involved. The transition requires couples to adapt their relationship and individual roles, improve their communication skills, and contend with their existing life responsibilities while assuming responsibility for a child. Expectant couples are naturally concerned about the well-being of their child, and thus may be especially open to learning new information, adopting new, positive behaviors, and improving their marital relations. Although programs generally focus on married couples, the transition to parenthood is also a moment when both unmarried and married couples can strengthen their relationship and benefit from education about healthy marriage.
Research indicates that after the birth of a first child, couples disagree more often than before, experience greater conflict, and report lower satisfaction with their own relationship. How couples approach marital conflict is critical to the overall health of their marriage and their children’s well-being. Very high levels of parental conflict are associated with greater emotional and behavioral problems in children. While it is common for expectant couples to attend childbirth education classes together, such classes typically focus on preparation for labor, birth, and child development rather than on the many life changes that will follow. Marriage education for couples becoming parents focuses on expectant couples' attention to relationship issues before they experience marital distress brought on by the transforming event of becoming parents. The following are examples of marriage education programs for couples becoming parents.
This approach targets married or committed couples who are becoming parents for the first time through birth, adoption, or foster parenting and consists of a series of classes designed to help them learn skills and knowledge to strengthen their relationships. BPP is based on principles taught in the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP), a comprehensive program for couples contemplating marriage. BPP supplements the PREP curriculum with topics relevant to the unique period surrounding the birth or adoption of a couple’s first child. BPP focuses on relationship skills learning, as adapted from PREP; issues associated with managing fatigue, stress, anger, and division of household labor; and lessons in infant care. The program involves 27 hours of classroom time, mostly during the weeks preceding birth, with one 3-hour “booster” session held when the infant is 6 to 8 weeks old and another when the child is 6 months old. Program instructors often are nurses, but paraprofessionals can be trained in the program method.
For additional information, see the website at http://www.becomingparents.com. Also, a book by the BPP designers, Becoming Parents: How to Strengthen Your Marriage as Your Family Grows by Pamela L. Jordan, Scott M. Stanley, Howard J. Markman, is available from Jossey-Bass publishers at http://www.josseybass.com.
Loving Couples Loving Children (LCLC) is an innovative approach to couples' education. LCLC's highly effective method focuses on building a sense of community among small groups of couples through engaging materials and activities. LCLC is based on the research of Dr. John Gottman, the country's leading expert in building strong, successfulrelationships.
This program, used in three Utah hospitals, is designed to strengthen the marriages of couples preparing to be new parents by supplementing existing childbirth education classes with short video presentations followed by discussions with a childbirth instructor. Couples are encouraged to complete exercises at home in the Marriage Moments Activity Guidebook. A related curriculum has been designed for use in home-visiting programs with new parents during the first year of a child’s life. During home visits, health educators supplement information on infant development and effective parenting with a 5-minute module on marriage skills to strengthen couples’ relationships. All participants receive lists of useful resources that they may explore to help strengthen their relationships. For more information, see the website at http://marriagemoments.byu.edu.