Family, Self

Having Children Made Me Love My Husband More

mom and dad kissing with child watching at bowling alley

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.

I also learned that I needed his differences. When I mysteriously gave birth to shy children, Marc explained what it felt like to be shy. When my daughter announced that she wanted pierced ears and green nail polish, Marc calmed me down and reminded me to listen.

As our children grew older and more expressive, I could see their love for my husband. Marc made my precious children laugh, and chased away the monsters under their beds. Watching them together now, I feel a strange mixture of joy, gratitude and love. When It Comes To Parenting, Give Dad A Chance

Despite the difficulties of those first years of parenting, my husband and I eventually found ourselves growing together, in ways that researchers don't usually measure. We had discovered the shared miracle of our baby. Who else wanted to watch our baby breathe? Who else was amazed when he said "mama"? We had also discovered a shared goal: raising our children to end up as happy, good people with fulfilling lives.

Raising our kids is now one of the most important things we do, and it influences most of our decisions. We live in an expensive suburb and my husband commutes an hour every day so that our kids can play in a backyard and go to good schools. We do family activities in our leisure time. We skip Christmas presents ourselves if the money gets low. We get up in the middle of the night to clean up vomit. Parenting Conflict? Make Sure Your Kid Wins

We love our children, and we want the best for them.

Eventually, we became Team Grownup, united to keep children everywhere from eating candy before breakfast and driving their parents insane. And we developed a strong family culture. We have our family rules—you can read at breakfast, but not dinner—and our family traditions—Dunkin' Donuts on Saturday morning.

This is what the research misses about parents and marital satisfaction. Parenting takes a couple of lovers and turns them into partners building a family. The benefits? Trust, respect, joy, pride, a shared purpose, a family culture and a place in a wider community. The process takes longer than those first few years. It starts with a time of increased conflict and decreased intimacy, and couples must work their way through this to become close again. And this transformation from lovers to family can make love and romance deeper and richer than it ever was before.