Researchers’ advice to save the relationships of parents of small children

According to Statistics Sweden, 30 percent of all parents of young children in Sweden separate. 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 from Statistics Sweden, 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 4 years and 8 months. 

 In a study at the Sahlgrenska Academy of the University of Gothenburg, 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 6 months old, 4 years and finally when the child was 8 years old. 

 Of the respondents, 23 couples had separated after four years, and after eight years, another 16 had separated. In the study, the researchers measured the separated parents’ relationships quality before they went separate ways, and compared the results with those who still lived together. 

 The study found certain similarities: 

 “When the child was 4 years old, both sexuality and sensuality were at constant low levels both among the couples who separated and those who had not,” says Malin Hansson, doctoral student at the Sahlgrenska Academy.  

 The largest statistically significant differences were seen in the dimensions of Satisfaction,  Consensus and  Cohesion: when the child was 6 months old, 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. 

 The study showed that 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 (which agrees with Statistics Sweden’s statistics from 2012).

 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. They were: strains from parenthood, stressful conditions,  lack of intimacy, insufficient communication, differing personalities and interests, no commitment (in the relationship), and negative effects of addiction. 

“If you were to generalize, you coud 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. The healthcare system also has a responsibility here. Healthcare staff come into contact with most prospective and new parents, and should take on the task of supporting them in the relationship by for example emphasizing the importance of sharing responsibility for the home and the children, arranging relief and emphasizing the importance of maintaining sensuality and a shared sex life.” 

The article Factors contributing to separation/divorce in parents of small children in Sweden was published online in Nordic Psychology in October. 

Link to article:


 Clear communication. Speak openly, clearly and with straight-forward “I messages”

Sensuality in every day life. Be generous with hugs, kisses and physical contact

Time together. Important both as a couple (arrange relief) and as a family

Affirmation. Give each other appreciation and love.

If problems in the relationship. Don’t wait too long to seek help!

The couples in the study were all first-time parents, married or co-habitating, Swedish-speakers and had 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. 

Malin Hansson, Doctoral Student at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg
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The Sahlgrenska Academy is the faculty of health sciences at the University of Gothenburg. Education and research are conducted within the fields of pharmacy, medicine, odontology and health care sciences. About 4,000 undergraduate students and 1,200 postgraduate students are enrolled at Sahlgrenska Academy. Around 1,400 people work at the Sahlgrenska Academy, 850 of them are researchers and/or teachers. 2013 Sahlgrenska Academy had a turnover of 2,4 billion SEK.

About Us

The Sahlgrenska Academy is the faculty of health sciences at the University of Gothenburg. Education and research are conducted within the fields of pharmacy, medicine, odontology and health care sciences. 6,000 students are enrolled at Sahlgrenska Academy and around 1,000 researchers and teachers work at the faculty.