The other side of the mirror – the role of partner’s empathy in transition to parenthood
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Submission date: 2014-12-19
Final revision date: 2015-01-27
Acceptance date: 2015-01-27
Online publication date: 2015-03-18
Publication date: 2015-03-18
Health Psychology Report 2015;3(2):150–157
The general objective of the project was to verify the role the partner’s empathy plays in the perceived adjustment to parenthood. Couple empathy and especially partner’s perspective-taking have been linked to better adaptation to parenthood, through increasing the quality of communication between parents or through reducing problems experienced during transition to parenthood. Empathy has been promoted among couples preparing for parenthood, for example during antenatal classes.

Participants and procedure
Two studies were conducted. The first study included 121 young mothers of children in their first year of life. They completed measures of adjustment to parenthood, postpartum depression, satisfaction with romantic relationship, and partner’s perceived empathy. In addition, women assessed factors associated with labour and midwife care. The second study involved 112 couples during transition to parenthood. Those couples were randomly assigned to experimental conditions using instructions in which they were asked to imagine a) one’s own or b) the partner’s situation after the child’s birth, and completed the questionnaire measuring expected adjustment to parenthood.

Male perceived empathy, relational satisfaction and postpartum depression were predictors of adjustment to motherhood in Study 1. In addition, the more empathy females perceived in their partners, the lower was the level of postpartum depression they declared. Couples empathizing with the partner in Study 2 perceived the challenges of parenthood in a similar way. Future mothers perceived more parenthood problems only when assuming their own perspective.

The results of the studies indicate that empathy plays an important role in shaping adjustment to parenthood, especially motherhood. Low-dosage interventions might help couples to become aware of their mutual problems concerning transition to parenthood, when conducting longer programmes is not possible.