One of my hesitations about having children was a fear of what it would do to my relationship. I had seen friends seem perfectly happy in their relationships until they had children, then suddenly implode shortly after the birth of their children. I had heard the statistics about marriage satisfaction dropping after the birth of children. I was happy in my relationship, and I didn’t want to lose my closeness with my husband.
Now, I’m not very far into being a parent yet. However, the statistics show that marriage satisfaction drops most sharply during the first year after a baby’s birth, and although we’re over halfway through the first year, I’m happy to say that we have not experienced this kind of sharp decline. On the one hand, it’s true that we are sometimes snappier with each other. Having a new baby is stressful, after all. On the other hand, we have a new shared sense of purpose. We are at the beginning of the most important task of our lives together, raising our daughter to be a healthy, productive human being, and that has deepened our relationship tremendously. I also see new reasons to love my husband every day through seeing the way that he loves and cares for our daughter.
Having taken another look at the statistics, I can see that my experience is not exactly unexpected. It’s true that 67% of relationships show a drop in relationship satisfaction after the birth of a child, but if you look at it the other way, that means that 33% of couples have no change in relationship satisfaction or an increase. We discussed a study by Gottman on Tuesday that showed that couples who improved their relationship skills before the baby’s birth were less likely to show this decline, and another Gottman study that I read today found a similar result, plus some information that explains the difference between happiness in couples with children and those without. First of all, the study found that happy newlyweds tended to become happy parents. In other words, those who tended to struggle with become parents were often those who were already struggling with their relationships. Second, couples without children were less likely to experience sharp declines in happiness, but this was partly because these couples were more likely to divorce quickly, meaning that only the happiest childless couples stayed together, which bumped up the happiness scores of childless couples over time. (For more on this study, check out this article: Parenthood Detrimental to Marriage?)
I plan on maintaining a healthy relationship with my husband for the long run, and what I’ve seen while reading about the topic this week has been clear: in order to have a healthy relationship after becoming parents, it’s necessary to consistently work on building connection and positive communication skills. In other words, I need to keep doing what I was doing already, consistently working toward strong relationship skills and bringing those to my marriage. Aside from wanting to have a healthy relationship for personal reasons, I also want very much to provide our daughter with a model for a healthy, happy marriage so that our example will help and not hinder her when she is ready to develop a relationship of her own. For me, that is more than enough motivation to keep myself constantly striving toward the relationship that will be best for all of us in the long run, even if it is difficult at times, which it surely will be. I believe the struggles will be worth it in the end.