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Marital Happiness After Children?  

I have frequently written in this newsletter about the impact of our child centered culture on children through parenting, but only indirectly about its influence on marital relationships. The negative impact of being overly child focused on marriage is the focus of this article.

One of the broadest and most consistent findings in marital research is that happiness and satisfaction with the couple relationship decreases for couples when they have children. My experience in working with troubled couples is that many, perhaps most, trace the start of their problems to the time when they first had children. That finding is borne out in research studies and, in fact, many couples report they never really regain a connection, and others only do so after their last child has left home.

There are biological reasons for this. Hormonal changes after childbirth reduce the sex drive for most women, and while sex isn’t the only way to stay connected, relationship satisfaction is associated with a satisfying sexual relationship. Also, for women who nurse, hormonal changes bring about intense bonding with their infant leading them to devote more of their attention to the infant and less to their husbands. Couples often report a decrease in connection after the birth of a child and almost always report they spend less time together, communicate less, and are less aware of what is going on in each other’s lives.

This inbalance in focusing on children’s lives over each other’s lives often continues far beyond infancy or even toddlerhood. It is supported by our culture’s hyper focus on children.

But humans have been raising children forever. Why is this such a problem now? Primarily because there are also more demands on a marriage now than there ever has been before. For centuries, marriage was mostly an economic, political, child-producing institution. The idea of marriage for love is a pretty recent phenomenon. Even sixty years ago, when love was a big part of the equation, sex roles were pretty segregated and men and women got a lot of their needs met in roles and relationships outside of marriage. Now there is more of an expectation than ever before that emotional needs be met in a marriage. And at the same time, the expectation that more time than ever be devoted to children. Something has to give and it is often the marriage.

There are couples that weather the transition to parenthood pretty well. What is their secret? That is coming next month.