An article by Stephanie Coontz in the NYTimes reports that more than 25 separate studies have found that marital quality drops dramatically once a couple has a child. While half a century ago it was believed by many that having a child was the best way to build a happy marriage, these days it’s viewed by researchers to be more like “three’s a crowd.”
Does that mean we’re all doomed to an unhappy marriage once children come along? Not necessarily. According to the article, two researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, Philip and Carolyn Cowan, have detailed in an upcoming paper that while studies DO find a large drop in marital quality after childbirth, they are not considering the various routes couples take to get the there. The article says:
Some couples plan the conception and discuss how they want to conduct their relationship after the baby is born. Others disagree about whether or when to conceive, with one partner giving in for the sake of the relationship. And sometimes, both partners are ambivalent.
The Cowans found that the average drop in marital satisfaction was almost entirely accounted for by the couples who slid into being parents, disagreed over it or were ambivalent about it. Couples who planned or equally welcomed the conception were likely to maintain or even increase their marital satisfaction after the child was born.
The Cowans also reportedly found that marital quality declines when the couple slips back into more “traditional” roles, such as “breadwinner” for the man, and “homemaker” for the woman. The wife ends up resenting the man for not being involved, and the husband ends up resenting the wife for not being more appreciative of his monetary support.
It was also revealed that parents are spending much more time with their children than they did 40 years ago, and this means less time with each other. According to sociologists Suzanne Bianchi, John Robinson and Melissa Milkie, “married mothers in 2000 spent 20 percent more time with their children than in 1965. Married fathers spent more than twice as much time.”
The article continues…
A study by John Sandberg and Sandra Hofferth at the University of Michigan showed that by 1997 children in two-parent families were getting six more hours a week with Mom and four more hours with Dad than in 1981. And these increases occurred even as more mothers entered the labor force.
Couples found some of these extra hours by cutting back on time spent in activities where children were not present — when they were alone as a couple, visiting with friends and kin, or involved in clubs. But in the long run, shortchanging such adult-oriented activities for the sake of the children is not good for a marriage. Indeed, the researcher Ellen Galinsky has found that most children don’t want to spend as much time with their parents as parents assume; they just want their parents to be more relaxed when they are together.
What are your thoughts on this? Have you noticed a change in your marriage since you had kids? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Read the full article here.
Studies find children decrease marital happiness. But is there hope?