Relationship Satisfaction, Co-Parenting, Spiritual Disclosure, and Religious/Spiritual Coping: Exploring Links to Parents’ Mental Health following a Neonatal Intensive Care Experience

Author/s: Gina M. Brelsford, Kim K. Doheny


Year: 2024 Vol: 9 Number: 1


The birth of a child is often a joyous occasion, but when a family experiences a neonatal intensive care stay, there may be mental health and relationship implications. In this quantitative study, 162 former neonatal intensive care (NICU) parents completed surveys related to their anxiety (PSWQ; Meyer et. al., 1990), stress (SASRQ-for NICU; Cardena et al., 2000), depression (CESD-R; Eaton et al., 2004), relationship satisfaction (RAS; Hendrick et al., 1998), and co-parenting (Brief Measure of Co-Parenting; Feinberg et al., 2012) along with self-reports of religious/spiritual coping (Brief RCOPE; Pargament et al., 2011) and spiritual disclosure (SDS; Brelsford & Mahoney, 2008) in the couple relationship. Participants were acquired after soliciting names from a state Bureau of Health Statistics and mothers were contacted via mail with a second survey for her co-parent/partner. Respondents to this survey were married or were living together as partners. Infants were born on average at 31.65 weeks’ gestation and spent an average of 33.23 days in the NICU. The average time elapsed between NICU discharge and parent survey completion was 414 days. Analyses were conducted via SPSS Version 28 and results indicated that there were significant inverse correlations between parents’ mental health and their relationship functioning (spiritual disclosure, relationship satisfaction, and co-parenting). Moreover, parents’ mental health challenges were significantly related to increased use of negative religious/spiritual coping. Finally, after accounting for relationship functioning, parents’ use of negative religious coping had a significant link to their mental health outcomes. Thus, when parents are experiencing difficulties with their mental health after a NICU experience, they may struggle more with their marriage, co-parenting, and engage in more negative religious/spiritual coping. Therefore, additional research is needed on ways to support parents’ mental health, relational functioning, and religious/spiritual lives following a NICU experience.

Spirituality • Religious/Spiritual Coping • Co-Parenting • Mental Health • Relationship Satisfaction