Couplehood is not a smooth cocktail when you add children in the mix. In fact, couples today are less satisfied in their child-filled-marriages than each previous generation, and parents today are the least satisfied. And if you think money can buy child-help happiness, think again. The more money parents have, the less happy they are in their marriages. Unfortunately, single parents have an even greater decrease in their overall happiness than those who are married.
There is no single reason why child-filled-marriages decrease a couple’s happiness, but possibilities are:
– Parenting happens later in life so there is more awareness around what is lost (freedom, autonomy, money, sleep).
– More pressure from society to be a certain type of parent.
– More demands are placed on our modern day lifestyle.
– Small stressors that were once easy to ignore in a relationship no longer are. (Values, lifestyle differences, individual abilities, or lack of.)
– Traditional inequities increase. (After the first child, a woman’s housework increases three fold.)
– The presence of children decreases the likelihood that unhappily married couples divorce, which may increase the rates of unhappiness overall in surveys.
A big factor cited for decreased martial happiness is an increase in arguments. One study followed 100 long-married couples for two weeks and documented their disagreements. The study found that nearly 40% of the arguments were explicitly about their children. It is not known how many more fights happened because parents were running on a short fuse due to child-related stress and lack of sleep.
Another culprit of decreases marital happiness is when a couple’s energy and time shifts toward the children and away from each other. Researchers have documented that once the first child arrives, couples have a third less time together than when they were childless. Married couples today spend an average of 9 hours a week alone together, versus 12 hours in 1975. The way we spend time together has also changed. Couples are more likely to vegetate in front of the TV than connect in ways that feel meaningful.
Marital happiness starts to decrease during a woman’s pregnancy and hits a low when children are 5-24 months old. Marital happiness does improve when children enter latency (ages 6-12), but again decreases during adolescence. Parents who make it through the child rearing years will be happy to know that growing research indicates that the empty nest syndrome was previously misunderstood. Parents do miss their children, but their marital relationship improves due to greater freedom and less responsibility. However, if your child happens to move back home, martial happiness will again decrease.
Increasing your marital happiness not only increases your own happiness and that of your partner, but also affects your children. Your marital relationship models for your child important lessons on intimacy, conflict, gender roles, balancing work, home life, and more. A study published by the US Department of Health and Human Services found that the quality of a parent’s relationship has as much influence on a child’s future mental and physical health and well being as their own relationship with each parent. And wouldn’t it just be nice to be happier?
So, what are you supposed to do if you find that your cocktail isn’t as smooth as you would like? Start by re-reading this article and noticing which reasons listed apply to you, then work to counteract them. For example, if you lack quality time with your spouse, create that. You don’t need to go out on a date night. Time at home when the kids are occupied or asleep will do. Just remember that you need to connect in a way that is meaningful to each of you. If you find that your arguing has increased, take note of what themes trigger disagreements. Sometimes just noticing differences in parenting styles can alleviate stress. Parents who parent from different perspectives, such as authoritarian versus permissive, tend to have higher levels of conflict. (See our upcoming article entitled Parenting Styles.)
Now breathe in and imagine that your marriage cocktail is as smooth as it has ever been.
*For the sake of simplicity, the term marriage will be used as a blanket term for all couples who are in a committed relationship and raising children together.
The Five Languages of Love