Psychology, Department of


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Fam Process. 2022 March ; 61(1): 294–311. doi:10.1111/famp.12692


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Millions of couples navigate the transition from pregnancy to postpartum in a given year, and this period of change and adjustment in the family is associated with elevated risk for intimate relationship dysfunction. Self-compassion has the potential to promote skills that are essential for healthy adaptation (e.g., emotion regulation, greater openness and flexibility, more awareness of the needs of oneself and one’s partner). The overarching goal of the present study was to investigate the role of self-compassion in intimate relationship quality during pregnancy. A sample of 159 couples completed semi-structured interviews and questionnaires. Parents engaging in more compassionate self-responding during pregnancy had higher quality intimate relationships as measured across multiple facets – the degree of emotional intimacy and closeness in the relationship, adaptive conflict management and resolution, high quality support in response to stress, and a high degree of respect and acceptance directed toward each other. Further, compassionate self-responding emerged as a mediator of the link between attachment security and intimate relationship quality. Specifically, mothers who were higher in attachment anxiety reported lower levels of compassionate self-responding which, in turn, undermined multiple dimensions of the intimate relationship. Further, fathers who were higher in attachment avoidance practiced less self-compassion, which had deleterious consequences for the couple. These results provide implications that can inform conceptual frameworks of intimate relationship quality and clinical implications for interventions targeting the transition into parenthood.

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