Parents: Want Better Sex? Have Dad Change More Diapers

Dad's parenting contributions pay off in the bedroom.

Posted Sep 30, 2019

When couples' average relationship satisfaction is graphed over time, the point where a child is brought into the mix can be easily identified by a sudden, roller coaster-like drop [2,3]. This doesn't come as a surprise to parents who have worked together to endure the sleepless nights, endless diaper changes, and impromptu crying fits that come with a newborn.

Of course, couples have been making the decision to endure this relationship satisfaction drop since the dawn of time. The reward is well worth the cost.

But, recent research suggests that practical changes in parenting practices may impact couples' relationship satisfaction in the bedroom. Stated perhaps most simply in the abstract, authors write: "results indicate that men’s performance of childcare is generally associated with more satisfaction with the division of childcare, more satisfying sexual relationships, and higher quality relationships" [1].

Using a nationally representative sample of 487 couples who reported information about various aspects of their parenting experiences in the home, researchers controlled for a variety of demographic and behavioral variables and analyzed the father's share of childcare as a predictor for desirable outcome variables:

"The male partner’s share of childcare is positively associated with relationship satisfaction (b = 0.624, p < .001), satisfaction with sexual frequency (b = 0.294, p < .10), and sexual relationship quality (b = 0.595, p < .001), [and] negatively associated with relationship conflict (b = −0.291; p < .001)" [1].

Couples who practiced more equivalent (research shows female parents typical bear the brunt of childcare activities in the home) levels of parenting practices tended to have better sexual and relational satisfaction and less conflict!

Easier said than done? Yes. But for new fathers who find themselves at the bottom of the post-baby relationship satisfaction dip, a few small changes could have significant payoffs.

While the authors concede that the external validity of their research is limited due to the "sample of straight, lower middle-class, mostly white American couples," results serve to provide a potential resource for parents who find themselves with limited energy to regain pre-baby levels of relationship satisfaction. Although there may seem to be a disconnect between parenting practices and felt satisfaction with one's romantic relationship, behavioral changes producing emotional shifts are a huge focus of psychology research.

Just like behavioral activation has been shown to have powerful protective and restorative properties for depression, anxiety, and even PTSD [4], behavior changes in the home seem to impact relational functioning for the better. And sometimes, when we're overworked and overstressed, it can be harder to face down the seemingly insurmountable challenge of "working on our relationship."

So, for dads who want to improve their relationship with their partner, start with the diapers.

References

Carlson, D. L., Hanson, S., & Fitzroy, A. (2016). The Division of Child Care, Sexual Intimacy, and Relationship Quality in Couples. Gender & Society, 30(3), 442–466.

Doss, B. D. & Rhoades, G. K. (2017). The transition to parenthood: impact on couples' romantic relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology. 13, 25-28.

Doss, B. D., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). The effect of the transition to parenthood on relationship quality: An 8-year prospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 601 – 619.

Wagner, A. W., Jakupcak, M., Kowalski, H. M., Bittinger, J. N., & Golshan, S. (2019). Behavioral activation as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder among returning veterans: A randomized trial. Psychiatric Services (Washington, D.C.).