Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Spring 2005

*Happily* Married with Kids

Having children can put your marriage at risk. While approximately 90% of married couples have children, fifty percent of couples report that the arrival of the first child also brings a drop in marital happiness. For those couples, marital happiness usually doesn't swing back up until the last child leaves the home. In addition 1/3 of mothers and fathers experience depression during this important transition. Depression takes its toll on marriage and marital unhappiness can cause depression.

Dr. Pamela Jordan and associates at the University of Denver found that couples who felt the most committed to each other were most likely to want to parent together. Notice though that 50% of couples starting a family do not experience a drop in marital happiness and that 2/3 parents do not get depressed. How do they handle this important transition? They master two skills: keeping the marriage primary in the midst of the busyness of the parenting demands and managing conflicts.

Protecting Fun and Friendship

In our work with new parents, we find that most couples are realistic about the adjustments of the first few months with a new baby - expecting the fatigue, distraction, and lack of energy.

What often blindsides couples after those first few months is that things never return to "normal." A new normal is created characterized by the continual demands of an infant. Even as baby learns to sleep for longer periods at night, the daytime demands are exhausting and time consuming. One of our clients described the impact of parenting on his marital satisfaction. "After the birth of our child, my relationship with my wife changed. I felt like I lost my best friend, my playmate, and my lover." How can couples stay mindful of the centrality of their relationship as they expand their family to include children?


Communicating Well

It is ironic that at a time when you have less time to talk, you have more to talk about. Couples who fail to take time to communicate intimately and regularly are likely to slip into bad communication habits such as:


To build good habits and stay on track:

Dealing with Conflict

Feeding, soothing, and disciplining a child together all provide opportunities for parents to disagree. Couples who have floated along on love before babies find themselves arguing all the time unless they develop conflict management skills.


Dividing Household Responsibilities

Along with a child's arrival comes a whole new set of responsibilities. It is time to negotiate a new contract about how household and childcare duties will be fairly distributed. Women who perceive an unfair distribution of childcare and household responsibilities often feel resentful and withdraw from the marital sexual relation-ship. Instead, prioritize tasks and assign them to the partners based on strengths and preferences. Consider getting some household help. This is particularly useful when both people are working outside the home.

Keeping Romance Alive

Making time for intimacy takes creative thinking and problem solving to work around the normal new parent fatigue. Mothers particularly complain that by the time they get the kids in bed at 8:30 they are so burned out and exhausted that sex is the last thing on their minds. This is true whether they have been home all day with the kids or work outside the home. Fathers too are challenged to fit in childcare and home maintenance with busy work lives in a way to leave energy for making the intimate connection with their wives. Couples need to problem solve about how they might get more rest to have some energy for enjoying each other. Here are some ideas to find time for that intimate connection:

In one of our workshops, we met a couple with six children who put out bowls of Cheerios on Saturday morning and set up videos of Sesame Street shows taped during week. Not only did they get intimate time together, their children learned to respect that privacy.


Jordan, Stanley, & Markman. Becoming Parents. How to Strengthen Your Marriage as Your Family Grows.

Copyright 2005 Drs. Susan & Philip Robison. Feel free to copy and reproduce as long as you print with contact information.

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