Any new parent will tell you that the birth of a child can take a toll on the relationship between a mother and father.
Now, a study has shown that it takes a staggering two years for first-time fathers to have a happy relationship again.
Luckily, there is good news for men looking to start a larger family.
Researchers found that relationship satisfaction improves after just two months of being a second father.
The study, which surveyed more than 600 fathers in Germany, is part of a growing body of research looking at parenting from a man’s perspective.
New study finds it takes new dads two years to get back into a happy relationship (stock image)
It was led by Judith T. Mack and Lena Brunke, researchers at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany, who describe a satisfying relationship “as one of the most important individual life goals”.
“Similar to primiparae, primiparae appear to experience a greater decline in relationship satisfaction during the transition to parenthood than primiparae do,” read their article published in PLOS One.
“Especially couples who are becoming parents for the first time should be prepared for the expected changes in their relationship.”
The authors noticed that research on the relationship between the transition to parenthood and relationship satisfaction focused primarily on mothers with their firstborn.
They therefore wanted to study fathers – with a special focus on differences between first and second fathers.
For the study, they analyzed survey data from 606 fathers, almost all of whom were German nationals.
In total, the sample included 500 first fathers and a further 106 second fathers.
The data were collected between 2017 and 2020 as part of the ongoing Dresden Study of Parenting, Work, and Mental Health (DREAM) project.
In the survey, relationship satisfaction was asked two months before the birth of the child, two months after the birth, 14 months after the birth and two years after the birth.
Overall, it was found that the birth of a child – regardless of whether it is the first or second child – is associated with a decrease in fathers’ relationship satisfaction.
However, there were significant differences in how long it took for first and second fathers’ relationship satisfaction to return to “baseline” levels (where they were when the surveys began before birth).
A key difference was that relationship satisfaction for first-time fathers continued to decline after two months.
Before and after birth, relationship satisfaction (RS) decreased in both first and second fathers. Primiparous fathers showed a higher RS value before birth. A key difference was that RS in first fathers continued to decline after the two-month mark, while in second fathers it improved – and continued to improve through the end of the study period (24 months).
In contrast, for second fathers, relationship satisfaction improved after two months—and continued to improve until the end of the study period (24 months).
In the case of first-time fathers, relationship satisfaction no longer decreased after 14 months, but did not increase either; it simply remained on a plateau up to the 24-month mark.
It is possible that first-time fathers experience a greater decline in relationship satisfaction after childbirth due to the shock of being a first-time parent.
The team also found that first-time fathers generally had higher levels of relationship satisfaction than second-fathers before childbirth.
This may be due to the fact that second fathers’ relationships are still in recovery mode after the difficulties that came with the birth of the first child.
However, after the birth of a second child, relationship satisfaction quickly returns, which may be related to greater self-confidence in parenting a newborn for the second time.
In the surveys, the researchers took into account factors such as age, education, income, length of relationship, marital status, the child’s biological sex and the child’s temperament.
Fourteen months after giving birth, second fathers tended to find that satisfaction in their relationship returned to normal
However, they found no significant association between reported relationship satisfaction and these other variables, apart from relationship duration.
Interestingly, couples in longer relationships initially tended to report lower relationship satisfaction.
For fathers who are still struggling in the many months after having their first child but still want a second child, the results are good news.
Meanwhile, men who are becoming fathers for the first time “should be prepared for the expected changes in their relationship,” according to the authors.
“The transition to parenthood can negatively impact fathers’ relationship satisfaction, more so for first than second fathers, but this condition can recover over time,” they say.
“Preparation and anticipation can be key.”
Study shows first-time fathers’ brains SHRINK by up to 2% after the birth of their baby – but it can actually help them connect with their child
Many women experience cognitive problems in what is known as the “baby brain” during pregnancy and after childbirth.
Now, a new study suggests that men can also experience brain changes after having their first child.
Researchers at the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid found that primiparous women lose one or two percent of their cortical volume after the birth of their child.
While the reason for this remains unclear, researchers theorize that the change may make it easier for fathers to bond with their child.