In one study, 70% of women reported being significantly less satisfied with their marriages after having a baby. Stress increases with the addition of another human being in the house, then multiply that by having a human being that is completely helpless. Things that, in the past, could be put off, are now emergency situations. Stressor: If the laundry waits a few days to be washed, it starts to stink. Stressor: If the baby isn’t fed Eventually, he begins to scream. Stressor: Before the baby, leaving the basement door open was no big deal; now it’s a disaster waiting to happen. No wonder children make a marriage seem like trench warfare.
Adding to the stress of specific situations, there’s the fact that, even though you probably discussed parenting with your partner before marriage, until you’re plopped down in the middle of parent-land, you really have no idea what you’re going to do. As they say, the devil’s in the details. Is it OK to let the baby take a nap in the middle of the floor if that’s where he happens to be when he falls asleep in the afternoon? How do you feel after ten minutes of a spoon being banged on the high chair tray? How long do you let the baby cry when he’s been put to bed? And speaking of bed—does the baby sleep in the parent’s bed?
These are all sources of stress that can help to pull a marriage apart. Normally, of course, children aren’t the sole cause of the problems. But communication problems, money problems, in-law problems, and others can all be exacerbated by young children. Children can be the magnifying glass that focuses the light on other problems and bring them to white-hot levels of intensity that burn a hole right in the center of what seemed like a good marriage.
So here are some things to think about, in no particular order.
- Men! Man up. Help take care of the kids. This includes diaper duty.
- Make your marriage a priority. Your children will grow up and leave the nest, but your spouse will be with you until the end. There are times when your children will need 100% of your time and attention, but those times are rare. Don’t allow your children to take precedence over your spouse. In the end, it will be a good lesson for your children to learn that they are not the center of the universe.
- Never allow your children to play one spouse against the other. Decisions about how to rear children should be made jointly, and not in front of the children.
- Communicate. Talk about parenting styles. Discuss your differences. Better yet, come to agreements on differences so they are no longer differences.
- Make an appointment with each other. Have a date like in the old days. Turn the phones off, put the kids to bed, hire a babysitter, and go out, even if it’s only for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie.
Sharing the Load
According to a University of Michigan study, having a husband creates an extra seven hours per week of housework for a woman; having a wife saves a man one hour per week. People tend to model the household they grew up in. Traditionally, men did less housework, spending more time doing the heavy farm work. Well, guess what, men? Most of you aren’t on the farm anymore and mowing the grass probably doesn’t take that long. It may be also that each party’s idea of a “clean enough” house is very different.
Compared with some of the other problems married life can bring, this one is relatively easy to fix. Nobody wants to play accountant, but for a few weeks, keep track of every chore done by either husband or wife. Count work inside and outside the house. Then have an honest discussion of the results and expectations for the condition of the house and arrive at an agreement that is equitable. (Note to wives: you may mention to your husband that relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute has research that shows that when men do their share of the household chores, the couple reports a more satisfying sex life.)