Category: Couples / Close Relationships
Research has demonstrated that parents’ relationship functioning deteriorates throughout the transition into parenthood (Doss et al., 2009). In addition, Lawrence and Bradbury (2007) indicate that physical aggression among couples is not stable over the course of relationships, suggesting the need to evaluate predictors of fluctuations in relationship aggression over time. Thus, the current study aims to examine the birth of a baby as a predictor of relationship aggression trajectories throughout the transition into parenthood.
Participants included 208 married and unmarried individuals drawn from a larger, longitudinal study of romantic relationship development (Max=11 waves of questionnaires, Range=4-6 months between waves). Individuals were included in the analyses if they or their partner gave birth at some point in the study and they were in a relationship with the baby’s parent at the time of pregnancy. Participants were 71.6% female and 24.3% Non-White with a mean age of 25.73 years. Participants reported on relationship physical and psychological aggression using the Revised Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996).
We used a model-fitting approach to compare trajectories of minor physical and psychological aggression, both from and toward partner, surrounding the birth of their child. The following are the best-fitting models for each aggression variable. For physical aggression toward partner, the Slope-Intercept model suggests that pre-birth, physical aggression toward partner was decreasing, but post-birth, there was an immediate increase (intercept-change), as well as a slower decrease in aggression than pre-birth (slope-change; Model Fit: p < .001). For physical aggression from partner, the Slope-Intercept model suggests that pre-birth, physical aggression was decreasing, but post-birth there was an immediate decrease in aggression (intercept-change), and leveling-out in slope compared to pre-birth (slope-change; Model Fit: p < .001). For psychological aggression toward partner, the Intercept-Only model suggests that there was an immediate increase in psychological aggression toward partner post-birth (intercept-change), but it continued to decrease at the same rate from pre- to post-birth (Model Fit: p=.004). Finally, for psychological aggression from partner, the Intercept-Only model suggests that there was an immediate increase in psychological aggression from partner post-birth (intercept-change), but it continued to increase at the same rate from pre- to post-birth (Model Fit: p=.007).
These findings further highlight the dynamic nature of aggression among couples, emphasizing the importance of the transition into parenthood as a risk period for aggressive partner behaviors. In order to better understand the opposite toward/from partner intercept directions in physical aggression and slope directions in psychological aggression, gender effects will be examined in future analyses. This study extends the literature on relationship deterioration following the birth of a child by utilizing stronger methodology that accounts for both sudden (intercept) and gradual (slope) changes in aggression between pre- and post-birth.