If we heeded all the research out there about parenting and marriage, no one would ever get pregnant. After all, babies make couples fight more and cuddle less. Equality goes out the window. Wives resent their husbands and husbands feel unappreciated. Everyone is tired and cranky, and couples inevitably become less satisfied with their marriage. Right?
Except that, 15 years into parenting, I love my husband Marc more than ever.
So why does the research show a decrease in marital quality after couples have children?
I should point out that, like many modern parents, we also had our share of marital difficulties once we had our baby. What had started out as a completely egalitarian domestic arrangement ended up transforming into a more traditional division of labor. I was unhappy about this. Meanwhile, my husband believed that he needed to work harder than ever outside the home, and he continuously felt unappreciated. On top of all this, we had little time for intimacy and our sex life was nearly nonexistent. We were poster children for the moderate decline in marital satisfaction that many researchers were finding in couples who had just become parents.
Unlike the research, however, our life together did not stop when our baby turned 18 months.
Here's the thing. The point of most long-term studies has been to figure out how to help people adjust to becoming parents. Because of this, researchers have focused primarily on the first year and a half of parenthood when conducting their research. This makes sense, but it practically guarantees that the results of such research will skew toward the negative. Not only that, but more general research shows that marital satisfaction goes down for all couples as time goes on, and is not necessarily related to having children. Also, while 38 percent of couples show a moderate decline in marital satisfaction during the first year and a half of parenthood, 30 percent of couples show no change, and 19 percent actually improve. Does "Happy And Married" Equal "Happily Married"?
But what of that 38 percent? Well, most parents are sleep-deprived during their first year and a half of parenthood, so they're ready to fight. Meanwhile, intimacy and sex normally decrease for new parents. While most couples spend the same amount of time together after having children, that time is spent on chores, not romance. I remember feeling lonely and distant from my husband when we first became parents. If researchers had asked us questions about our intimacy then, our relationship would have failed on the spot. The Case Against Co-Sleeping
Things got better for us later on. We worked out our new roles as parents. In our early years, I had fought with my husband for using nonsense words with our baby, as I was convinced this was going to delay our son's language development. We also fought over how to pack the diaper bag, and whether or not calling our son "The Poopster" would scar him for life. Over the years, I calmed down and came to admire my husband's parenting skills: the way that Marc taught our children to pick up salamanders and worms, and how he coaxed our daughter into cleaning her room when she and I were butting heads.