New research from Sweden finds that a whopping 30 percent of all parents of young children in their country separate. Although data from the U.S. is unavailable, many believe the ratio is similar in most industrialized nations.
In response to the findings, researchers at the University of Gothenburg have mapped the most important factors behind the separations and divorces — and offer five tips that can save the relationship.
According to 2012 statistics, one out of three Swedish couples that have small children get separated. The average age of the first child at the time of the separation or divorce is four years and eight months.
In a new study, 452 parents answered a scientific questionnaire that measures relationship quality in five different dimensions: Consensus, Cohesion, Satisfaction, Sensuality, and Sexuality. The questionnaire was answered at three occasions, when the first child was six months old, four years, and finally when the child was eight years old.
In the study, the researchers also measured the separated parents’ relationships quality before they went separate ways, and compared the results with those who still lived together.
Of the respondents, 23 couples had separated after four years, and after eight years, another 16 had separated.
The couples in the study were all first-time parents, married or co-habitating, with a healthy child. The average age at inclusion was 30.3 years of age for the mothers and 32.4 years of age for the fathers.
Of the parents included, 46 percent were married and 54 percent were co-habitating. All couples were heterosexual and had been a couple for an average of 5.1 years when they had their first child.
Upon review of the data, researchers found that the couples that separated and those that stuck together were similar in certain parameters.
“When the child was four years old, both sexuality and sensuality were at constant low levels both among the couples who separated and those who had not,” said researcher Malin Hansson, a doctoral student.
The largest differences between the groups were seen in the dimensions of Satisfaction, Consensus, and Cohesion when the child was six months old. At this point in time, the separated respondents agreed less about different matters, they were less satisfied with the relationship, and felt less togetherness and lower quality in their sexual lives compared with those who did not separate.
Researchers also found that marriage made a difference, as the risk of separating was twice as high among co-habitating partners as married spouses. A low level of education and unemployment were also risk factors.
Using the parents’ answers to the question “What factors do you think contributed to your current situation (both positive and negative)?”, the Gothenburg researchers were able to formulate seven factors that contribute to separation.
- strains from parenthood,
- stressful conditions,
- lack of intimacy,
- insufficient communication,
- differing personalities and interests,
- no commitment (in the relationship), and negative effects of addiction.
Researchers say some global themes were discovered for splitting up, although they also believe some issues could be resolved with appropriate intervention preventing divorce.
“If you were to generalize, you could say that the separated fathers wanted to have more time for themselves, while the mothers wanted more time together with both their partner and with their children,” says Malin Hansson:
“It is not always bad that parents separate. But there are “unnecessary divorces” that are a result of communication problems or a temporary downturn in the relationship, which could be avoided with more support.
In Sweden, the healthcare system is asked to provide mental health support to prospective and new parents. The researchers believe the Swedish system should provide support to young parents to help parents maintain and improve their relationship.
For example, government interactions could emphasize the importance of sharing responsibility for the home and the children, as well as the need to arrange relief and emphasize the importance of maintaining sensuality and a shared sex life.