Study Highlights How Intimate Partner Violence Impacts Co-Parenting

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—For couples who may believe a baby will improve a rocky relationship, new research from RTI International and Pennsylvania State University finds that violence between a couple before a child's birth impedes their ability to co-parent well.

The co-parenting relationship refers to how partners relate to one another as parents, including agreement about parenting practices, supportive versus undermining behaviors, division of parenting work, and joint family management. Past research has demonstrated that difficulties with the co-parenting relationship influence both parenting quality and child adjustment.

Based on a theory that violence between parents disrupts the co-parental alliance, researchers examined the effect of pre-birth physical violence in 156 expectant couples. The study, published in the Journal of Family Issues this month, found that violence was a strong predictor of how the couple viewed their co-parenting relationship a year after their child was born.

"It's not just that violence makes it harder to be a good partner and a good parent, but it also seems to make it harder for partners to work together and support each other as new parents," said Marni Kan, Ph.D., a research psychologist at RTI International, and the study's lead author. "Intimate partner violence may inhibit problem solving and prevent partners from coordinating parenting roles, which may in turn make their adjustment to parenthood more difficult."

The study found that violent behaviors enacted by either partner had a significant negative impact on how both parents perceived their co-parenting relationship. General couple relationship quality and, to a lesser extent, parent mental health problems accounted for the associations between violence and co-parenting relationship quality.

Intimate partner violence is most common during early adulthood. Some researchers estimate that the prevalence of violence among dating, cohabiting or married young adults ranges from about 22 percent to 55 percent.

"Because many couples become parents during this period when violence rates are high, it is important to understand the impact of pre-birth violence on early parenthood and young children," Kan said. "Our study suggests that preventing or stopping violence before the transition to parenthood could help to improve family relationships later on."

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Highlights

  • A new study found intimate partner violence before a child's birth impedes co-parenting ability
  • Co-parenting difficulties can negatively influence parenting quality and child adjustment
  • Researchers from RTI International and Pennsylvania State University examined the effect of pre-birth physical violence in 156 expectant couples
  • Violence by either partner negatively impacted how both parents viewed their co-parenting relationship a year later