Dads: A More Perfect Union

Peter Sr. exclaimed that Pete Jr.'s birth made him feel "like heaven had opened up!" He then sat back and recalled his memories of "feeding and diapering him and giving him all the attention."

Gordon, thinking back on the day that he became a father, exclaimed, "I felt fabulous!"

Joe remembered his daughter, Pat, as an infant: "Oh, she was great! She had long fingernails and a dimple in her chin."

These men, who participated in my long-term study of fatherhood, recalled their initiation with elation. And parenthood usually does start out that way.

Research shows, however, that many couples experience a decline in their marital relationship after the birth of their first child. This is not surprising. New parenthood comes with a whole array of stresses and strains.

Couples making the transition to parenthood must adjust to the psychological stress of increased personal isolation and confinement -- no quiet dinners out, no movie dates, no romantic trips. The physical strain is equally real. No one is ever prepared for the exhaustion resulting from round-the-clock care of an infant.

The emotional strain of new responsibilities and a changing division of family labor can also create a negative cycle of stress. A new mother may prod her husband to be equally involved in housework, or a new father may push his wife to continue her career, although neither is really eager to do so. When one person pushes, the other person tends to push back. If these issues aren't resolved, lingering resentment may damage the relationship.

Not all new parents, fortunately, experience a decline in marital happiness in that first year. In fact, about a third of husbands and wives experience improved feelings of love for each other.

How do some families cope so well? From the stories I've heard from the men in my studies, I've sorted out some of the coping techniques used by the most involved and satisfied fathers. Here are four of the most helpful.

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