I see many young couples struggling the stresses of maintaining intimacy in their marriage while parenting and running the household. I ran across this article, originally published in “The Conversation”.
Lots of women look forward to motherhood – getting to know a tiny baby, raising a growing child, developing a relationship with a maturing son or daughter. All over the world, people believe that parenting is the most rewarding part of life. And it’s good that so many mothers treasure that bond with their child, because the transition to parenthood causes profound changes in a woman’s marriage and her overall happiness… and not for the better.
Families usually welcome a baby to the mix with great expectations. But as a mother’s bond with a child grows, it’s likely that her other relationships are deteriorating. I surveyed decades of studies on the psychological effects of having a child to write my book “Great Myths of Intimate Relationships: Dating, Sex, and Marriage,” and here’s what the research literature shows.
When people marry, they’re usually in love and happy to be tying the knot. But after that, things tend to change. On average, couples’ satisfaction with their marriage declines during the first years of marriage and, if the decline is particularly steep, divorce may follow. The course of true love runs downhill. And that’s before you factor in what happens when it’s time to start buying a carseat and diapers.
For around 30 years, researchers have studied how having children affects a marriage, and the results are conclusive: the relationship between spouses suffers once kids come along. Comparing couples with and without children, researchers found that the rate of the decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly twice as steep for couples who have children than for childless couples. In the event that a pregnancy is unplanned, the parents experience even greater negative impacts on their relationship.
The irony is that even as the marital satisfaction of new parents declines, the likelihood of them divorcing also declines. So, having children may make you miserable, but you’ll be miserable together.
Worse still, this decrease in marital satisfaction likely leads to a change in general happiness, because the biggest predictor of overall life satisfaction is one’s satisfaction with their spouse.
Despite the dismal picture of motherhood painted by researchers, most mothers (and fathers) rate parenting as their greatest joy. Much like childbirth, where nearly all mothers believe the pain and suffering was worth it, most mothers believe the rewards of watching their children grow up is worth the cost to their romantic relationships.