How A Baby Can Strengthen Your Marriage

How A Baby Can Strengthen Your Marriage

How A Baby Can Strengthen Your Marriage

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parents with new baby
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When a couple has a baby, their marriage can still stay strong.

A Bundle of Joy?

Diaper commercials, baby-shower cards, and your own relatives will tell you a baby is pure bliss, a heaven-sent bundle of joy, a gift worth all that sleep deprivation, all those dirty Pampers.

We do love our children. But what they can do to our marriages is another story.

 

A growing stack of research reveals that happy marriages take a nosedive when a couple becomes a family. Thanks to sleepless nights, new expectations, and the demands of bringing up baby while holding down a job, 30 to 50 percent of all new parents feel as distressed as couples already in therapy for marriage problems, say researchers from the University of California, Berkeley. Up to 70 percent of new moms say their marital satisfaction dropped dramatically. At least one-third of mothers and fathers experience significant depression as they become parents. And one in eight couples separate or divorce by the time their first babies are 18 months old. Generation X parents seem to feel the parental pinch even more acutely: A recent review of 90 studies involving 31,000 wives and husbands by San Diego State University researchers found that for young couples today, marital satisfaction plummeted 42 percent further after the first baby than it did for their own parents. And with each child added to the family, happiness dipped even lower.

The shift from lovers to parents can rock your marriage down to its roots. Suddenly you find yourselves taking on traditional, stereotyped roles that may clash with your thoroughly modern expectations: A working mom trades the office, wisecracking colleagues, and the gym for breast-feeding, bottle-washing, and mountains of laundry (and after just six to eight weeks of maternity leave, often adds an office job back into the mix). A husband faithfully attends childbirth classes, spends long hours in the delivery room, and cuts the baby's umbilical cord, yet all too often feels shut out during the early years of child-rearing. Instead, he works longer and harder in his career in order to provide for his growing family, and feels more and more distant. You're both doing more, communicating less, and feeling vastly underappreciated. Modern marriage makes matters tougher: You may be having kids in your late 30s or early 40s, when the fatigue factor is higher and job pressures are bigger than they probably were in your 20s. And there's more to be anxious about than ever before in our kid-competitive society. Will your child get into a good preschool program? Can you afford this year's $800 status stroller and $100 baby playsuit? Is your wunderkind enrolled in the right art, music, and tumbling tots class?

Small wonder, then, that Newsweek magazine decreed parenting "The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love." Or that the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University reached the chilling conclusion in 2004 that "children seem to be a growing impediment for the happiness of marriages." Happily, even newer research reveals something smart couples have always known: Parenthood can sweeten and strengthen your relationship. All you've got to do: Put your marriage first; appreciate each other instead of criticizing; get organized; and communicate, communicate, communicate. That's a tall order for two sleep-deprived, baby-spit-spattered, shell-shocked people (who haven't showered in days). We know. We've been there. And we're here to help—whether you're planning to start a family or have already embarked on the adventure of raising kids. Here's how.

Best Tips For New Parents

Despite all the hoopla surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, "there's not much attention to how this baby will impact you as an individual and as a couple, or the 157,250 hours of parenting that comes next," observes Pamela Jordan, R.N., associate professor of family and child nursing at the University of Washington and developer of the Becoming Parents Program, one of the nation's first parenting classes to focus on a couple's marriage, not just their child-rearing skills. Most couples, she notes, simply don't have ready-made skills to help them safeguard their marriages in the face of the overwhelming stresses of parenthood. These steps can help.

Talk about what's ahead.

How will you split household chores and errands? Who's going to earn money, and who's going to stay home? What will you do for day care—and who will get baby Huey to and from the child-care center or sitter's house? Who's going to take the night shift? Who's going to wash the bottles and/or sterilize the breast pump every day? Who will shop, cook, clean, and let the dog out? How will Mom—or Dad, if the two of you have opted for a Mr. Mom arrangement—get daily breaks to recover sanity and get a hot shower? These seemingly small details can loom large in your relationship once baby makes three.

Break the silence about parenthood's downside.

Yes, new babies are the cutest little bundles of joy in the universe. But caring for one (or multiples!) isn't all kisses and cuddles. Feeding, changing, bathing, and entertaining a little one 24/7 can stretch your physical, emotional, and mental resources beyond the breaking point. Find time to talk together about your frustrations, fatigue, and even moments of anger. Be specific, be supportive, and dare to be honest. These feelings are normal—not a sign that you're a bad parent. Admitting them, accepting each other's feelings, and working together to solve underlying problems (e.g., agreeing in advance that if one of you is overwhelmed, the other will step in and take care of the baby for a while) can keep you feeling saner—and closer.

Be frank about the losses as well as the gains.

You've got the baby of your dreams, so why are you feeling