Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Having Children Can Put a Strain on Your Marriage- That’s News?

posted by Michele Olson

This is a time to read past the headlines and sound bites. An eight year study from the University of Denver has found that having a child can put a strain on a marriage. Personally, I don’t find this a shocking finding as being entrusted with a human being should be a weighty life changing event in my mind, but this study helps us take a closer look at the issue.

Marital bliss according to the study dives within a year after the birth of a first child. So - that means not focusing on yourself and being free to come and go as you please is easier than having the total care of a small helpless human being. Rocket science! If your life is only about bliss, I doubt you would ever do anything challenging. Most of the good things in life take a lot of hard work.

This has to be big news only to those couples who have never had a child and romanticized what starting a family would be like. One of the co-authors points out what the study doesn’t capture: the richer, life changing contentment that comes from the efforts of building a family. Scott Stanley, a DU psychology professor and co-author of the study spoke directly to smartmarriages.com about the study and had this to say:

- The study focuses on the way declines in marital functioning happen over time for couples who have children and also for those who do not. Couples having children showed clear declines in marital quality that were concentrated around the time of childbirth. Yes, transition to parenthood changes couples, and the changes can be challenging.

- Led by Brian Doss's amazing work on this, part of what we found is that the decline is, on average, small to medium in size. The effect was not hugely negative as some studies before have found. On the other hand, the decline is real where some other studies have suggested that this may not be true.

Key take-a-way: Transition to parenthood is a particularly identifiable and challenging period for couples. (Many of you knew that.)

Read a fair media report on the subject here
Visit Scott Stanley’s website here

Let us hear from you…how do the findings of this study affect you? Does this study influence your decision to have children? Thoughts? Leave a comment!


Anonymous said...

Well already having children (4), I can't say the article *affects* me. It does however confirm my marriage experience - declining interest/time/energy in maintaining an intimate relationship. While I wouldn't attribute this to children exclusively (there are many reasons for this), there can be no doubt the dawn-to-dusk needs of children every single day draw away huge amounts of the time and energy required to really invest in marriage, especially for the wife. Too often one or both partners get lost in being a parent and forget about being a spouse. It takes a truly intentional and focused effort to maintain a connected marriage while still doing what needs to be done with/for the kids.

thinkmarriage.org said...

True! Everyone who has kids will probably just agree that children affect your marriage. Would it have changed your mind about having kids before you had them, or made you feel differently about wanting to have children?
Good advice about "truly intentional and focused effort"...
that's what we are all about here at thinkmarriage.org! Thanks for blogging.

Jen said...

My husband and I are planning to have children in the near future. I am not sure if I am an idealist or what...but this study does not affect that. I know in my head that my life will change, but how can anyone truly understand until they have tried. Same goes for most things in life. Everyone has different experiences and handles situations differently. Of course adding a dependent little person in the mix will change your life...I feel that studies should also show the joys of having children and the great experiences they bring to your life. You gotta take the good with the bad!


thinkmarriage.org said...

Hi Jen,
Thanks for commenting. I agree and one of the co-authors of the study also pointed out too...who is measuring what children "bring" to a marriage? I guess the point is, that side of the story gets a lot of press! I had a teacher that always quoted: "Hard is the good." That's so true of being parents...it's hard work...but it's fantastic as long as you keep working on your marriage during parenting. Content parents usually adds up to content children. Thanks for blogging!

Anonymous said...

To your question - would it have changed my mind - no not really. Children are a gift and certainly a life-enhancer. But speaking for myself I was very leery of having more children after the first two because I was already seeing the effect on my marriage and wife. In the end having more kids after that point has been a blessing (kids), but unfortunately I saw a continued decline in my marriage as a result as well. There are definitely times I envy our friends with one or two kids who still make time for each other. As I said before, I don't mean to put that on the kids, but rather on us - our kids were our choice and our marriage issues/time is our problem to solve.

I agree with your point about content parents usually equal content kids. However the reverse is not necessarily true (as in my case)...

thinkmarriage.org said...

Thanks so much for your honest thoughts. As someone on the other end with grown children, I think if you can "hang in there" and never lose the idea of nurturing your marriage, you will reap the rewards. It's amazing, but when it's all done...and if you keep nurturing the marriage...you won't remember how hard it was! You'll remember it all fondly. Thinking big picture is helpful..you are in a season, but this season is not forever. I applaud you for realizing that even though it is very difficult, you keep going, and work on the marriage every way you can. Bottom line...they are worth it!

Anonymous said...

I agree...they are worth it! I have 5 grown children and have been married for 36 years. And I have seen in some of my friends lives who have no children, that life itself can put a strain on marriage...even without children. No matter what comes your way the reality is that in order to have a long lasting marriage, it takes work and commitment. If I could choose to do it all over again, would I choose to still have 5 children? Absolutely, I wouldn't hesitate in the least. What a blessing they have brought to our lives, even in the tough times. Children surely are a blessing. Good communication skills helped us when the times were tough.

thinkmarriage.org said...

Thanks for commenting from someone who has had many children, and is on the other side of seeing the rewards of all the hard work! Congrats! Your point is well taken...when you have good communication skills...you can talk through everything. Thanks for blogging!

Anonymous said...

I would like to see more clearly expressed opinion about Scott Stanley's work, and especially his tendency to accentuate that children of divorce have lesser chances to have happy long marriages.

thinkmarriage.org said...

Thanks for blogging..if you follow the link in the blog to his website, you will be able to read many of his thoughts.