Remarital quality in the context of co-parenting: Beliefs and expectations of biological parents




Pringle, Jennifer Dawn

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Despite the prevalence of remarriages and stepfamilies in North American society, there is a relative paucity of research regarding aspects of marital quality in stepfamilies relative to the abundance of empirical examination of first marriages. Related to the absence of clear norms and roles for remarried partners and stepfamily members, clinicians have noted that remarried individuals tend to hold beliefs and expectations of remarriage and stepfamily relations that are better suited to biologically-related nuclear families, as opposed to recognizing the unique and often complex circumstances of stepfamilies. As such, remarital quality may be particularly prone to disappointment due to unfounded expectations and beliefs that become problematic for adjustment of partners and their children. Similarly, the few guidelines for interactions between former spouses who continue to co-parent their shared children may lead to dissatisfaction for remarried parents attempting to manage these relationships. The current study aimed to predict two aspects of remarital quality – dyadic adjustment and relationship commitment – with a measure of the changes in one’s beliefs over time about remarriage and stepfamilies, while also accounting for remarriage length and the self-reported well-being of the responding remarried parents. Changes in beliefs about co-parenting with one’s former spouse were also assessed as potential predictors of co-parenting communication quality, which has sometimes been found to correlate with remarital quality. An online questionnaire was completed by 112 remarried mothers who shared parenting of their minor children with their former spouses. A small sample of 33 remarried fathers also participated, providing an initial comparison group with which to tentatively explore gender differences in changes in beliefs and their association with remarital and co-parenting quality. Most respondents reported remarital satisfaction and average communication quality with former spouses, providing little evidence for the spillover of conflict that has been noted previously. Emerging as predictive of better current remarital quality included a reported decline over time in the beliefs that stepfamilies only have a slim chance of success, and a belief that stepfamilies are “second-best” compared to nuclear families. Mothers who recalled the greatest decreases in these beliefs over time also reported more positive remarital adjustment at present, compared to those whose beliefs did not change as much. The earlier that these beliefs changed, the greater the benefits were to remarital adjustment. Change in beliefs was also predictive of co-parenting communication, more so than individual well-being. Few sex differences were noted. These findings suggest that changes in beliefs regarding marital transitions and co-parenting relationships are important for adjustment in these relationships and have potential to act as targets for intervention to facilitate smooth transitions to remarriage and stepfamily life. Highlighting the need for remarrying couples and their children to have opportunities to develop positive beliefs and expectations about stepfamilies, possible applications in terms of public policy, community education, peer support, and family resources are discussed.



remarriage, co-parenting, expectations, beliefs, former spouse