Before I became a mom, I noticed that my friends with kids were unhappier with their partner than in their childless days. They fought more, were less affectionate, and complained about each other more frequently. I felt sorry for them, in a superior kind of way, and vowed with my partner that we'd be different. Then, my daughter was born.
What I didn't know before I had kids, and what I couldn't have known then, is that children throw a seven, eight, or nine-pound wrench into our romances — sex included. In a recent study in The Guardian, Open University found that childless couples have happier marriages. Unless we figure out how to acclimate to the new rhythms generated by our precious, wondrous, exhausting children, their impact worsens with each subsequent child.
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I find it comforting that the relationship stress caused by my six-year-old and my two-year-old falls within the norm. Research shows — plenty of research, by the way — that 9 in 10 couples report a drop in relationship satisfaction in the first 1 to 3 years after their first baby is born; and anywhere from 65% to 90% say that drop is steep.
Phew, I’m not alone! S*#t, what can I do about it?
Sometimes, simply knowing that our experience is a common one alleviates our distress and so does grieving about what we lost. No matter how much we love our kids, admitting what disappeared when they were born — e.g., 2/3 of our alone-time with spouses — is not only understandable, but it honors our relationships.
So, how do we maximize our precious time alone? Here are 2 quick tips:
- Take a kid-talk time-out: We often diminish our couple-time by chatting or arguing about our children, so limit the kid-talk by setting a timer for 5 or 10 minutes. Once that bell dings, move on. Worried you won't resolve kid-related issues? Reverse it. Set aside 10 or 15 minutes when kid-talk isn't allowed. If you haven't had enough of each other when you hear the beep, re-set the timer and keep going. (Bias alert: I believe that in most cases, devoting a few more minutes to connecting with each other is more important than, and helps our parenting more, than most kid-focused chatter. Even if that delays deciding if your third grader takes tap lessons, or you never discuss the fifth cute thing your baby did today.)
- Focus on what your spouse is doing right: When parenting and life in general wear us down, criticisms ramp up. Intervene in that habit by ending the day with at least one supportive comment to your spouse about what you appreciate about how s/he parents or some other up-beat comment. Feel pressured by that approach? Then write something positive about your spouse on a post-it and leave it on his or her cell phone or car keys before s/he leaves for the day.
While few parents deny that having kids threw a wrench of one sort or another into their marriages, most remain happy they had them; the kids, I mean. I believe that finding ways to remain happy that we had, and still have, our relationships is also important, not only for our joy as individuals and couples, but also for our kids' well-being.
The more we believe, and make efforts to ensure, that relationship happiness and parenting aren't mutually exclusive, the sooner we'll see this headline in the press: "New Study Proves Couples With Kids Are As Happy As Childless Couples!" Until then, make the most of your alone time with your spouse, focus on what's working and, if all else fails, get some quick and easy tips from a Life Coach who specializes in helping parents stay sane and stay together.
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