- How Do You Keep Your Marriage Strong After Having Kids?
- REFRAME YOUR RELATIONSHIP
- DON’T EMPOWER YOUR EMOTIONS
- PRACTICE GRATITUDE
- THEY SAY IT TAKES A VILLAGE
- MAKE INTIMACY A PRIORITY
- REMEMBER YOUNG LOVE
- LOVE IS A VERB
- Staying Lovers While Raising Kids
- Q: So when couples fight, what is it that they're usually fighting about?
- Related Articles:
- I asked two relationship experts how to keep young kids from eroding your marriage
- Get in touch with your guilt
- Know that your job is to make your kids need you less
- Have a 'date night' every night
- Why Being Married With Children Can Be Stressful
- How to stay happily married after baby #2
- [Does more sex make married couples happier?]
- Honeymoon period
- [Cost of having a baby can vary by ,000 in U.S.]
- The Biggest Thing All Parents Need to Know About Marriage
How Do You Keep Your Marriage Strong After Having Kids?
The euphoria of falling in love with our new babies is intoxicating. For me it was such a dominant force, that for a while it overshadowed everything else in my life, including my marriage. Our soul mates, the loves of our lives, the very people who make our children possible in the first place often end up feeling second best.
I took our marriage for granted, assuming it was strong enough to withstand any challenge. And it is incredibly resilient, but when a baby comes along we’re tested never before.
While children bring intense joy they also spell less time, less money, more mess and more stress.
Small cracks in a relationship may grow into colossal chasms and threaten the foundation of our precious family units.
Over the past few months we’ve witnessed a couple of friend’s marriages die and it feels we’re mourning the loss of something very special.
While the D word is rarely spoken in our home it’s given me a wake up call and made me realize our relationships with our soul mates may be more fragile than we realize.
If we hope to make it through this marathon of love not only together, but happily united, we need to intentionally nurture our marriages.
Our relationships with our partners are just as, if not more important, than the ones we care for so intently with our children. Long after our kids have left the nest and spread their wings, this is the person we hope to grow old, grey and wrinkly with. To cherish our grandchildren with and to look back on a life filled with happiness, laughter and joy.
I definitely don’t have all the answers. My relationship has spanned two decades and it continues to teach and surprise me on a daily basis. But, here are are few lessons I’ve found through soul searching, research and experience, which have helped me nourish and sustain our post-baby marriage.
REFRAME YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Novelist, Nora Ephron, once said “A child is a grenade. When you have a baby, you set off an explosion in your marriage, and when the dust settles, your marriage is different from what it was.”
Accepting your marriage will never be the same again will help you surrender to something which promises to be even better. Give yourself the freedom to evolve with your changing life and revel in the richness a child brings.
Go with it, rather than against it and be swept up in the magic of falling in love deeper with your partner as you see them changing and growing as a new parent.
Just in one of my son’s favourite bedtime books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, it takes time to transform into a beautiful butterfly.
DON’T EMPOWER YOUR EMOTIONS
We’ve moved internationally a bunch of times and each time we do, I say to myself, “Ignore your emotions for the first six months”.
I’ve learned feelings of isolation, doubt and loneliness are a normal part of a massive life changing event. Experiencing those emotions allows us to move on to something new, to challenge ourselves and to grow as people.
But don’t give your emotions power – recognize them for what they are and set them free.
No matter how much you yearned for a baby becoming a parent is a cataclysmic event. Give each other a break and allow your child to bring you closer together rather than tearing you apart. Your world has been turned upside down – trust that you will find your groove in time but for now accept and revel in the craziness.
In those first few months watching my husband manage the house filled me with intense gratitude, love and comfort. Seeing him step up to the plate, as I was trying to find my way as a new mother made it easy to say THANK YOU over and over.
But, as the dust settles and life finds a new normal you may feel you’re doing more than your fair share.
Rebecca Rosen, of The Atlantic wrote, “The work is probably evenly split if both partners feel they are doing upward of 60 percent since a lot of what one partner does is necessarily invisible to the other partner”.
For over four decades Psychologist John Gottman Ph.D has been studying marriages and has uncovered seven principles happy couples have in common.
One principle he says is, “Happy couples are scanning the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.
Unhappy couples are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
So, rather than practicing gratitude casually, actively seeking out opportunities to appreciate your partner could be one of the keys to a happy marriage.
THEY SAY IT TAKES A VILLAGE
A recent article I read touched on the notion that love is a limitless resource but energy is not: as parents we need to nourish both.
We all love our kids but time away from them gives us the opportunity to replenish our energy and renew our relationships.
Sarah Hrdy, leading scientific authority on motherhood, suggests it takes in the order of 13 million calories to raise an a child from infancy to nutritional independence, far in excess of what parents can provide on their own – it sure does take a village.
So, if you have family or friends who offer to help, TAKE IT and don’t feel guilty. And if you don’t, create your own village of parents, friends or babysitters. We live an ocean away from our families so we’re in the process of establishing ours – and it’s making all the difference.
MAKE INTIMACY A PRIORITY
For women, having a baby transforms us. Our breasts miraculously begin producing milk, any modesty we had about our femininity is lost and we’re ly to find the last thing on our minds after having a baby is sex. But when the time is right, it seems there’s nothing playful affection to smooth over an argument or to strengthen our unique connection with our partners.
As parents though time, energy and privacy are in short supply. We co sleep with our son, which adds more complexity to keeping our sex life healthy. But, thinking beyond the master bedroom, making the most of toddler naps for day time sex, scheduling sex, installing locks on bathroom doors and most importantly, making it a priority, may be all you need to keep a little romance alive.
And remember, what kids need most is two happy parents so be openly loving in front of them: it’s not only beneficial for mum and dad but also an invaluable lesson in modelling healthy affection to our kids.
REMEMBER YOUNG LOVE
I recently rediscovered a collection of letters we sent each other many years ago and I’ve reread a handful of them. They make me smile as they transport me to a time when our love was pure, fresh and young, reminding me of the intensity of our passion for one another and highlighting how much we used to communicate it to one another.
So, be it with old love letters or reminiscing your early days together remind yourselves you’re the same two people you were when you fell in love, in spite of the unpredictable madness of day to day family life.
LOVE IS A VERB
Our marriages are the easiest relationship to put on the back burner but the most important one not to.
When I was researching for this post I came across a frightening statistic: of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages – some divorce and some stay together in dysfunction.
And I also came across an inspiring statistic: People who stay happily married live four years longer than people who don’t. There is something intrinsically healthy, both emotionally and physically, about being in a happy marriage.
It’s important to talk about our struggles, not just with our partners but with friends and family. Knowing we’re not alone in the challenges we face can give us the reassurance we need to keep going. On that note, I’d love to turn the discussion over to you, the Raised Good Community.
How do you nourish your relationship, with or without kids? I’m excited to learn from you in the comments below.
Staying Lovers While Raising Kids
What happens to a couple's relationship after they have a baby? Philip Cowan, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the Institute of Human Development at the University of California at Berkeley, and his wife, Carolyn Pape Cowan, Ph.D.
, adjunct professor of psychology at Berkeley, have been studying this question since 1975, when they saw their own marriage begin to falter after having children.
That's the year they decided to start the Becoming a Family Project, tracking couples from pregnancy to when their children started kindergarten.
In 1990 they began the Schoolchildren and Their Families Project, following the first of several groups of parents whose kids were entering kindergarten.
The Cowans will complete their research in 2005, when the last group of kids finishes high school.
That's the year they decided to start the Becoming a Family Project, tracking couples from pregnancy to when their children started kindergarten.
In 1990 they began the Schoolchildren and Their Families Project, following the first of several groups of parents whose kids were entering kindergarten.
The Cowans will complete their research in 2005, when the last group of kids finishes high school.
Child checked in with the Cowans to peek into the early findings suggested by their studies. So far, the results have been clear: After having a child, couples' marital satisfaction declines, negatively affecting kids emotionally and academically. But this downward slide is not inevitable. Some couples' marriages remain strong and happy, as do their children.
What are these couples doing right? And why do so many relationships seem to suffer after children? With the U.S.
divorce rate still high and the Bush administration considering increasing federal resources to promote marriage, the Cowans' work seems more relevant than ever.
In an interview, the Cowans — married for 45 years, with three grown children and seven grandchildren — shared what they believe are the ingredients to a happy family.
Q: You say most couples become less satisfied with their marriages after having kids. How unhappy are they? Are certain childrearing stages harder on relationships?
CPC: Ninety-two percent of those in our first study described a gradual increase in conflict after having their baby. By the time their babies were 18 months old, almost one of four couples indicated that their marriage was in distress. And this does not include the 13% who already had announced separations and divorces.
PC: One stage is not harder on relationships than another. There is a cumulative erosion of satisfaction over time. Parents of school-age children experience less depression and personal stress than they did when their kids were babies, but marital satisfaction continues its steady decline for most couples.
Q: Yet some parents remain happily married. What is their secret?
PC: The key to marital satisfaction lies in how couples manage the decision-making process. It's not whether the couples have problems, because every couple does. But when babies come along, there are a lot more issues and differences of opinion to negotiate, and a couple's ability to do so with cooperation and respect can make or break the marriage.
It's also important for partners to hear each other's outbursts without immediately firing back or engaging in blame. And the one who's said or done something thoughtless needs to make amends later. Saying, “I made that comment anger. I really didn't mean it,” goes a long way toward repairing a relationship.
Q: You also put some expectant couples in groups with trained leaders and found years later that their satisfaction did not decline. Can you explain?
PC: Many people take Lamaze classes, learning how to breathe during childbirth, but few give much thought to what the next 20 years are going to be . Couples in our first study joined the groups when the wives were seven months pregnant and met weekly until the babies were 3 months old.
The group helped them start thinking concretely about what life with the baby would be and enabled them to talk about their ideas, worries, and confusion before and after the birth. Six years later, the couples who remained married and had been in these groups were far more satisfied with their relationships.
Q: So when couples fight, what is it that they're usually fighting about?
CPC: New parents say it's the division of labor, the who-does-what in the family.
PC: When children become school-age, the issues of money and spending time together become more important.
Q: Don't couples' sex lives play a big role in their marital satisfaction?
CPC: Sex is a reflection of how the rest of the relationship is going. If you feel hurt or misunderstood, or you and your husband are struggling over but not resolving issues, that affects how attracted, nurturing, and ready to have sex you'll be.
The frequency of lovemaking declines during the early months of parenthood when mothers especially are exhausted, but we find that most couples' sex lives rebound within two years.
During that time, though, some partners may not initiate even snuggling or touching for fear that it will give the message that they're ready to have sex when they aren't.
We advise couples to be perfectly clear: “I'm not sure how much energy I have tonight, but I'd love to hold you for a few minutes.” That enables them to have more intimate time together and show caring for each other.
Many new mothers talk about feeling unattractive postpartum. But while a few men find it hard to see their wives as sexual after having children, most husbands are supportive about their wives' appearance.
Q: What role does the relationship spouses had with their parents have in a marriage?
CPC: It helps if partners understand how each other's family history is being played out in the marriage, which is another reason why couples' groups are so effective.
For instance, a common struggle among new parents is whether to let their baby cry it out at night. If you pick up a baby all the time, she'll come to expect that, the father might say.
But, the mother argues, a baby needs to be held to feel secure and know we are here for her.
In the group, the couple would explore why they feel so emotional about their view. Maybe the mom is compensating for what she didn't get as a child from her own parents. Once she and her husband realize why this particular issue is so touchy, it's easier for them to be sympathetic and find a solution they're both comfortable with.
Q: What can couples do on their own if they want to improve their marriages?
PC: Work on issues with your partner when you're calm — not at 2 a.m., when the baby won't sleep. Often after couples have had a fight, they're reluctant to bring up the issue again. But if you don't, it can linger and resentment can build.
If you argue in front of your kids, tell them later that you worked out your disagreement or show them that you did by calming yourselves down in front of them.
Make time for the relationship. You may not be able to afford a sitter or be ready to leave your baby, but you can check in with each other for at least 10 minutes every day.
That can be done after you put the kids to bed or even on the phone while you're both at work, as long as you're sharing what happened to you that day and how it's affecting you emotionally.
The pace of life today is so frenetic that few couples do this. But marriages are capable of change, and small changes can make big differences.
Q: In your research, you've found that being in couples groups with trained leaders also helps children. Why do you think that is?
CPC: We enrolled 66 of the couples in our second study in couples groups for four months. One half were in groups that focused more on the parent-child relationship, while the other were in groups that stressed the marital relationship.
We conducted interviews with parents, observed the family interacting, asked teachers to fill out questionnaires about the couples' children, and gave the students achievement tests.
Those whose parents had been in groups of either type were doing better academically and having fewer behavioral and emotional difficulties than the children whose parents received no support.
This was true even six years later.
PC: Interestingly, couples in both kinds of couples groups had become more responsive parents — warmer and more skilled at setting realistic limits for their kids.
But only the parents who were in the marriage-focused groups had developed more satisfying marriages.
That tells us that if parents improve their relationship, they will not only improve the marriage but also become more effective parents.
Q: Do kids really know when their parents aren't happy with their marriages?
CPC: Absolutely. We've found that kids sense when their parents are upset or in conflict even if their parents are not openly fighting. And from academic achievement tests and teacher reports, we know that the kids who feel responsible for their parents' conflicts don't do as well in school.
Q: Despite all your research that reveals the toll kids take on relationships, you are optimistic about marriage and parenthood. Why?
PC: Our children have always been a great source of joy, and virtually all the couples in our studies said that about their children. Becoming parents can reveal fault lines in a marriage — it did with us.
But if you work on the marriage and make it better, as we did, it can be wonderful for everyone. Partners can feel better about themselves, they're more productive and able to meet challenges, and the children thrive.
- How Does Your Relationship Rate?
- Rekindling Romance
I asked two relationship experts how to keep young kids from eroding your marriage
- Marriage typically gets harder after you have kids.
- But it's important to prioritize your spouse and your relationship even after you become a parent. Two marriage therapists share their top tips for doing just that.
- This post is part of Relationships 101, a series which aims to help us all be happier and healthier in love — and to stop fighting over who should take out the trash.
“There is no such thing as a family vacation.
So says Hal Runkel. He's a marriage and family therapist, the author of “ScreamFree Parenting,” and a father of two.
When you and your partner head to the beach, or the museum, or the streets of Paris with small kids in tow, Runkel said, that's basically the opposite of a vacation for the adults. “That's a business trip,” he said. “You're working your tail off.”
Working with couples in distress, Runkel helps them figure out other, more effective ways to re-invest time and energy in their relationship.
I spoke with Runkel and marriage therapist Rachel Sussman about the best ways to make your marriage a priority, even when you've got young kids in the house. Here are their top tips:
Get in touch with your guilt
Sometimes, when Sussman encourages clients to spend less time and energy on parenting, they're shocked.
“But then,” Sussman said, “you start unpacking more.”
Inevitably, the client will say something , “I'm guilty because I'm a working mother, so I do extra to spend time with them.” (Sussman said she hears this largely from female clients.) Or, the person will say, “I feel bad getting a babysitter,” because their job prevents them from being home to put the kids to bed every night.
But Sussman will tell them: “By making your children the most important thing, you are neglecting your partner. And then how is your child going to feel if that marriage falls apart?”
That is to say, by giving all your attention to your kids and none to your partner, you're potentially putting the family in a very precarious position.
Know that your job is to make your kids need you less
“People feel they don't have permission” to shift their focus from their kids to their partner, Runkel said. They'll say, “The kids need me.”
But they're forgetting: “The whole point of parenting is to get them to not need me. They need to need me less and less every year if I'm doing my job right.”
That's not to say you should leave your kids to fend for themselves every day — it's more that you don't need to hover. And you can feel OK about going away for the weekend with your partner every so often.
“By just going away,” Runkel said, “you're communicating to your kids: You're able to handle life without me for a weekend. I believe in you.”
Have a 'date night' every night
“I heartily recommend that you work crazy to establish a consistent bedtime” for the kids, Runkel said, that gives you and your partner a few hours together every night.
Too many people think they have to hire a babysitter and organize an official “date night” every Friday, or spend tons of money on an international getaway.
And while Runkel said Friday nights out and trips to Cabo can be helpful, a more practical approach is simply to carve out adults-only time every night.
“It helps you get through the difficult 'now',” Runkel said — even if the kids are being especially fussy at dinner, you know that by 8 p.m., they'll be asleep and you and your partner can hang out together.
It's not just good for the two of you — it's good for your kids. If they see that their parents are “taking time for themselves, that they genuinely cherish each other, and are affectionate with one another, that gives them a sense of stability,” Runkel said.
“It's supposed to be hard,” Runkel said of marriage after kids. “But once you prioritize it and do it, you'll see amazing benefits.”
Why Being Married With Children Can Be Stressful
Alistair Berg/Getty Images
It's a common experience, but not one that everyone talks about: you had a wonderfully romantic relationship before getting married and you have a wonderfully romantic relationship after getting married. Then you add kids to the mix and everything's a little more stressful, less romantic, and less satisfying in your marriage.
This experience is so common that it's practically universal, yet it's not commonly discussed when people talk about having children. In fact, many couples expect that adding children to the mix will bring them closer together, and that may happen in some ways, but often not in the ways that a couple may expect. Here's what the research has found.
While we don't want this to be true, a large proportion of people find that children create a significant amount of stress to their relationship, particularly when the kids are young.
According to researcher Matthew Johnson of Binghamton University in his book, “Great Myths of Intimate Relationships: Dating, Sex, and Marriage,” research shows that this is commonplace and that there is also a decrease in relationship satisfaction following the birth of the first child.
This dip in happiness doesn't go away until after children leave the nest, and by that time, many couples have divorced or drifted apart. Here are some more specifics:
- Children add stress to a marriage and that marital satisfaction decreases sharply when kids become part of the relationship. Interestingly, this also happens to unmarried couples, so marriage itself is not the culprit in relationships that go stale.
- Children create stress for parents as individuals, as well as the couple as a unit. Perhaps not surprisingly, mothers take on the lion's share of childcare in most relationships. Also not surprisingly, this stress hits mothers in particular pretty hard. Most women's other relationships deteriorate to a degree as their bond with their children grows stronger.
- The stress of children is universal. It's not isolated to certain social classes or even to specific countries or regions of the world.
There are many factors that go into this dip in satisfaction, and they are not the same for everyone. However, certain stressors hit many parents are particularly taxing on a relationship and an individual. The following stressors are particularly challenging.
Less time together: When couples have a child, they are often surprised by the amount of work it takes to raise a baby, and the toddler years are labor-intensive as well.
Because of the intensive caretaking required and the fact that any alone time that occurs during the baby's waking hours requires the use of a sitter, couples naturally find themselves with less time to spend together, and usually less energy to devote to one another when they do find the time.
This can obviously take a toll on the connection they feel as they're less free to spontaneously have fun, or enjoy leisurely days together, even on the weekends.
Less time for oneself: When parents have too little sleep and too little time to take care of their own needs (as often happens with a new baby or a high-needs toddler), they can become more stressed and difficult to be around. When one or both partners are not functioning at their best, particularly if this lasts for q prolonged amount of time, it can take a toll on the relationship.
Greater demands placed on the partnership: When a child enters the relationship, couples need to divide up responsibilities in caretaking, even if both agree that the bulk of the work should fall on the shoulders of one parent while the other focuses more on earning money.
This can lead to a feeling that the couple is more of a functional partnership than a romantic partnership as couples begin to feel a little more roommates than soulmates. Because of these additional demands and the negotiation that's needed, there's a greater chance of conflict.
Different responsibilities and different expectations: Additionally, when partners have different responsibilities, it's possible for one or the other to feel resentful if they feel they're working harder; without a frame of reference for what the other partner is dealing with, it's easier for new parents to feel that they should be handling things differently and feel frustrated as a result.
Not everyone experiences the following challenges, but they can put a particular strain on a family. These are special circumstances that create significant additional stress:
- A high-needs temperament
- Health challenges, including physical and mental health issues
- Extreme financial strain
- A lack of practical support
The good news is that, although some studies show that marital satisfaction doesn't rise significantly until children leave the nest, having children is worth the effort in other ways.
Children enhance our altruism: Other research shows that giving to others and expressing altruism is beneficial for our overall wellbeing, and having children certainly provides opportunities to give of ourselves.
Children reduce the lihood of divorce: While new parents may feel less happy, they are also less ly to divorce following children.
This may be because they are more motivated to keep their partnership together for the sake of their children, but the increased commitment can help them weather the challenges they face and maintain their connection until happier times return.
Parents themselves say it's worth it: While these challenges can be difficult for a couple to face, virtually all parents say the sacrifices they make are worth it and they couldn't (or wouldn't want to) imagine their lives without their kids. They say their children bring their life meaning. This can bring significant benefits as research shows that those who have meaning in their lives tend to be happier.
If you're feeling stressed or that there is some strain on your relationship, you're not alone and you're not necessarily doing something wrong. There are many things you can and should do to safeguard your own happiness and your connection to your partner.
Managing the stress you face as parents can help you to preserve the happiness you've had, and to build more positive feelings and experiences from here on.
You don't need to wait until your children leave home in order to raise your feelings of marital happiness; the following suggestions can help significantly.
Your partner isn't the only one who can help you to increase your relationship bliss. Family members, friends, and even people you hire can help you to stress less and enjoy your time together more. Here are some ideas to keep things happier.
- Nurture your relationship with your partner
- Create a supportive circle of people who can help you, if possible
- Create an emotional support system
- Find ways to minimize social stress: competitive moms, unsolicited advice, your own tendency for social comparison
- Eliminate toxic situations whenever possible
Practice Extreme Self Care
It is important for you to take care of yourself and your own needs, and not just those of your children.
What may feel “extreme” self-care might simply be considered a normal amount of self-care to someone without children depending on them for care as well.
Whatever you call it, it's important to keep your body in good shape so you have the physical and emotional stamina to do what needs to be done.
- Get enough sleep
- Eat balanced meals
- Find some time for yourself whenever possible—set aside time to do nothing if you can, but even running errands alone can help
Focus on Maintaining Balance
There is a lot of talk about “balance,” but that is because it is so important for stress management.
That means maintaining a balance in all areas: balancing work with play, balancing meeting your needs with your kids' needs and your partner's needs, balancing time spent away from home and time spent with family, and other balances. Here are some important forms of balance to focus on.
- Create a balance of kids’ activities, your activities, downtime and sleep time
- Do enough fun things to create memories, but not so many that you feel overwhelmed—be honest with yourself about where you stand
- Eliminate tolerations when possible, find help when possible, and be present when possible
Focus on Finding the Right Frame of Mind
The way you look at things can greatly affect your relationship and your overall happiness. In this case, there are many ways that you can focus on maintaining the right frame of mind. Any of the following can raise your level of relationship satisfaction.
- Enjoy every minute (when times are good)
- Remember that this will pass (when times are challenging)
- Savor the positive experiences
- Focus on gratitude
- Focus on what you are learning from your kids and all the ways in which they enrich your life
- Know that a decrease in marital satisfaction is normal—and not your or your mate’s fault—but that there are many things you can do to increase satisfaction as well
- Maintain a regular date night
- Find the humor in the challenges
- Be patient with yourself, your partner and your kids
- Have fun as a family
- Maintain friendships with other families and stay close with your family (if these relationships are healthy)
It is also important to get help if you need it. This help may take the form of a marriage counselor, an individual therapist, or even just a babysitter who can help take some of the pressure off and allow you to be your old selves again.
Be sure to enjoy all of the things you were looking forward to when you were looking forward to children, and remind yourself that there may be sacrifices, but it's worth the effort.
Savoring your good times with your partner and children is the best way to be sure the challenges and stresses don't weigh down your relationship.
In the end, your relationship and your life are what you make of them.
How to stay happily married after baby #2
Many married couples think they may never have a normal conversation or a full night’s sleep after the birth of their first child. But there’s good news: The transition period often isn’t as long for the second baby.
While the initial four weeks after the second birth involves a period of adjustment, couples often adapt to the changes within four months—and the quality of their marriage returns to where it was before the birth.
The findings, which contradict other studies that have suggested marital satisfaction continues to decline with each additional child, are published in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice.
[Does more sex make married couples happier?]
When researchers examined marital changes one year after the birth of the second child, most couples were more positive than negative about their marriages and managed the transition with little change. Overall, couples experienced only minor disruption when the new baby was added to the family.
“Even when there was significant change, it was often short-lived, attesting to family resilience rather than crisis after the birth of a couple’s second child,” says Brenda Volling, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
For the study, researchers tracked more than 200 married from the last trimester of pregnancy through one, four, eight, and 12 months postpartum. Couples completed self-reports on marital communication, parenting stress, support from family and friends, and their overall satisfaction with their marriage.
Many couples (44 percent) had wives reporting small declines in positive marital relations, but no increase in marital conflict. Husbands reported a honeymoon period with less conflict in the month following the birth.
Some couples did have a more difficult time. Husbands and wives had different views about their marriages, with the men claiming their marriages were more satisfying and positive than the women.
Earlier studies found that couples became more traditional in their household and childrearing responsibilities after the birth of a first child. Wives did more work than husbands. These changes in the traditional division of labor, maybe the reason for a decline in marital satisfaction after birth, Volling says.
[Cost of having a baby can vary by $10,000 in U.S.]
“What we’re finding is that it is not who is doing what with respect to childcare, but how couples communicate around child care.”
Couples who have a difficult transition are more ly to use destructive marital communication (yelling, blaming, threatening their spouse) during child care disagreements about who is doing (or not doing) what. Meanwhile, couples using more constructive communication and problem-solving strategies fare better after the birth of their second child.
Thirty-five percent of couples reported more stress and disruption immediately following the birth. Wives noted more conflict. Husbands said they experienced a drop in their positive feelings about the marriage.
This group had a more difficult time but the disruptive period was short-lived, says coauthor Richard Gonzalez, professor of psychology, statistics, and marketing. Couples engaged in positive marital relations again by four months.
Couples who communicate positively and receive support from family and friends are better able to cope with stress, which prevents marital decline, Volling says.
Researchers from Texas Tech University and from University of Georgia contributed to the study.
Source: University of Michigan
The Biggest Thing All Parents Need to Know About Marriage
The first year after Lilah was born was a bumpy one for Ben and Taylor. They had to learn how to navigate the new landscape of parenting. More daunting, they had to figure out their marriage, and how to transition from being a couple to being a family.
“Having a newborn changes everything in your life, including your relationship,” says Taylor, a public relations director in San Francisco. “You and your partner are in straight-up survival mode, operating on no sleep and thinking about nurturing your relationship doesn’t even come into it because you are literally fantasizing about sleep the way people fantasize about sex.”
As any parent knows, stress and sleeplessness can extend beyond the newborn phase and put strain on a marriage.
Dave and his wife, Julie, struggled with sleep deprivation when their son, Gabe, stopped sleeping through the night when he was between six- and eight-months-old.
After sleep training helped resolve that problem, the couple says they essentially “lost a whole year” dealing with a “threenager” when Gabe turned three. Those difficult stretches, Dave says, don’t make marriage any easier.
It does, however, get better: “The more independent Gabe becomes, the more we can focus on each other and maintain a close connection,” Dave says of Gabe, who’s now nine. “Overall I would say we are closer because now we share two bonds: love for each other and joint love of our son.”
Dave and Taylor both say that having a child ultimately strengthened rather than hurt their marriages. This, however, puts them in the minority.
Research concerning what happens to a marriage after having kids has been discouraging to say the least, beginning with E.E. LeMasters’ well-known 1957 study.
It found that for 83 percent of couples, the arrival of their first child constitutes a marital “crisis.”
Despite decades of research concluding more or less the same, the issue of whether children help or hurt a marriage is still a matter of debate.
A few studies have attempted to contradict LeMasters’ downer of a conclusion, including one in 1975 in which the authors seemed alarmed that the footloose, child-free lifestyle gaining in popularity might have an extreme impact on fertility rates in the U.S.
University of California, Los Angeles, researcher Judith Blake noted that the women in the study who said they expected to remain childless throughout their lives rose from .04 percent in 1967 to four by 1976.
She wrote that although children were no longer economically necessary to a family, they were nevertheless “socially instrumental.” (The alarm seems unwarranted, considering that today’s figures are not much higher: Among women 15 to 44 in the U.S., 7.4 were childless by choice 2011 to 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control.)
Married people who have kids, in fact, are happier than unmarried people raising children, and their happiness quotient appears to increase with each subsequent child, according to a study published more recently, in 2009.
But, in terms of how kids affect marriage, the negative studies outnumber the positive. The adjustment to parenthood can be even more difficult for black couples, a 1977 study concluded.
In general, however, people are less romantic with each other after becoming parents, another study found, and researchers noted in a 2011 paper that despite persistent perceptions that childlessness leads to lonely, meaningless, and unfulfilled lives, most studies suggest child-free people are happier.
In their longitudinal study of first-time parents, University of California, Berkeley, researchers Philip A.
Cowan and Carolyn Pape Cowan summarize three broad conclusions that decades of research has suggested for how children negatively impact a marriage: Childbearing and childrearing years are times during which marital satisfaction tends to decline, mothers and fathers are more ly than the childless to experience depression and “…with very few exceptions…studies have shown that couples who have had a first child are less satisfied with their marriages during the first postpartum year than they were in late pregnancy.”
The Cowans’ research suggests that the transition to parenthood is a period of heightened distress for both mothers and fathers. It’s not difficult to imagine how this might strain a marriage.
“Very often, the person who’s the primary caretaker for children gets really involved in the child’s life, and the other person feels jealous,” says Lisa Schuman a licensed clinical social worker in New York City. “As time goes on, that gets harder. The caretaker’s emotional resources are stretched, and if they don’t commit to their partners, the relationship can dissipate.”
Another common explanation for postpartum strife, as the authors of a 1985 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found, are “violated expectations” about parenthood.
Researchers had parents fill out questionnaires about their expectations about parenthood and then followed up with the same questions three and six months postpartum. Parents who reported the largest gap between their pre-baby expectations and the realities about parenthood were the least happy.
Well-educated parents tended to be less surprised about life after baby and didn’t report the same plunge in life satisfaction after having children.
Mismatched expectations are a plausible contributor to why having children statistically tends to lead to marital dissatisfaction. “However, I don’t think expectations are all of it,” says Brian D. Doss, Ph.D.
, marriage and family researcher, associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami and author of Reconcilable Differences. “Couples are sleep-deprived, stressed, and putting their relationship on the back burner to care for their infant.
They also have to navigate new challenges, decisions, and stressors.”
Doss followed couples who were married for eight-to-10 years to study the changes in their relationships after they became parents, and the results weren’t pretty: About 90 percent of couples said they felt less happy in their relationships after having a child.
Sixty percent said they were less confident they could work through their problems, and many reported lower levels of dedication to their relationships long term.
Couples said they also experienced more negative communication and more problems in the relationship after having children.
Relationship researcher Matthew D. Johnson, Ph.D., chair and professor of psychology at Binghamton University in New York has seen similar trends among new parents in his own work.
“I don’t want to be a buzzkill or discourage people from having children, but we need to go into this with our eyes open,” Johnson says. “It’s taxing and vexing — children at any age use lot of resources and leave your depleted.”
What’s more, becoming a parent is a big, sudden shift in identity, as both an individual and part of a couple.
“It’s not so much about being tired, it’s more about identity,” Johnson says. “There is more to do and coordinate and less room for couple-oriented activities.”
The strain on a relationship can increase along with the learning curve for new parents. An incredible amount of focus is required to parent, Johnson says, particularly when parenthood is a completely new experience.
As an example, he describes a dad he counseled who thought it was okay to take a nap with his 3-year-old running around the house unsupervised.
When the toddler was found nearly dangling out a window, the man’s wife was understandably appalled.
Per Doss, research supports the idea that more parenting education could help a lot of couple’s weather storms and their children.
“There is good evidence that interventions focused on improving couples post-birth co-parenting can buffer couples from declines in relationship satisfaction,” he says.
“There is also a separate body of work showing that interventions focused on the relationship can also buffer couples from post-birth declines.”
Dave says he “didn’t know what the hell he was doing” when he first became a father but also says he’s skeptical about whether education before Gabe’s birth could have really prepared him for what was to come. Feeling Julie was the right partner for him, however, was crucial in his decision to even become a parent, he says.
“My guess is that couples who really get closer after the birth of the first baby do a lot of shared co-parenting and have a lot of their identity involved in being a parent, rather than work or other sources of identity,” Doss says when asked why we all know many couples who seem deliriously happy after having a kid despite the dire statistics about becoming parents. “It’s definitely possible, it’s just not the norm.”
In fact, once you get to a certain point in a marriage, kids are more ly to keep couples together, notes Brittany Carswell, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Tampa, Florida.
“But couples who get divorced within those first seven years, those are the ones who are falling into the statistics you’re talking about. They just give up,” Carswell says. “ [the research of acclaimed relationship expert John Gottman], many of those first-seven-years breakups were due to the adjustments of parenting. I guess that’s because couples are not as committed yet.”
Gottman researchers have also noted philosophical shifts in people’s identity, roles, and values after having children, Carswell says. There are major changes in how couples need to divide their time and deal with conflict as parents. Sex, intimacy, and even conversation tend to decline. And another tendency is for fathers to withdraw.
“All of this psychological and physical adjustment can make people react very differently,” she says. “But another thing we’ve found is that the foundation of a couple’s relationship is very predictive of how they’re going to adjust to the transition. Having a strong friendship and a healthy emotional connection are hugely important in the ability to regulate conflict.”
Taylor’s friendship with Ben is partly why their relationship has been better since the birth of Lilah, now seven. “It’s really fun for both of us to share our interests with her; that’s been a bonding thing for all of us and good for our marriage,” she says. “Whatever our occasional problems, she’s proof we’re doing something right together.”
The marital dissatisfaction numbers are so high simply because parenting is stressful, per Schuman. “But if we think about it in the context of other things that we do because we have a goal, it’s probably not that different,” she says.
Ask someone in medical school if they’re happy, and chances are they’ll say no, she says. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be doctors.
“You’re picking your poison: if you really want a family, you’re going to have to go through the highs and lows,” Schuman says. “But I think the highs are really high. It’s going to be stressful but the goal is worthwhile.”