Adolescent pregnancy and the transition to parenthood can be a challenging time rife with poor health outcomes for both mother and child. However, strong relationships may buffer some of these negative effects and actually be protective against poor health outcomes for young families. This ARCH study sought to explore how relationship factors impact relationship functioning for young expectant couples and to identify the association between relationship functioning and mental and physical quality of life.
A total of 296 pregnant adolescent couples (women age 14-21) were recruited and surveyed during their third trimester, at 6 months postpartum, and at 12 months postpartum. Couples were asked about their quality of life, relationship satisfaction, equity within their relationship, feelings of romantic love and partner attractiveness, decision-making power within their relationship, attachment avoidance and anxiety, experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV), and family support of the relationship.
Upon data analysis, several significant associations were found. Women had worse mental and physical quality of life than their male counterparts. Moderate or severe relationship distress was found in at least one member of 61% of couples. Better relationship functioning or satisfaction was associated with lower attachment avoidance and anxiety, more relationship equity, lack of IPV, more feelings of love and partner attractiveness, and greater family support of the relationship. Furthermore, higher levels of relationship functioning related to better mental and physical quality of life for couples. No differences were found across gender.
Overall, our findings indicate that secure attachment, relationship equity, feelings of love and attractiveness, and family support all contribute to stronger relationships, which in turn contributes to greater mental and physical well-being for pregnant adolescent couples. More research is needed to fully understand these associations as well as the impact of relationship quality on mental and physical health.