Thursday, April 09, 2009

Before you get your dander up

All over the news today are headlines saying that having children weakens marriage, and that studies indicate that childless couples are happiest.

If you actually read the studies, that's not what they say at all. It's just an example of the press being anti-family, anti-marriage once again.

You can read about the studies here:

It turns out that both childed and childless couples experience declines in marital happiness--it's just that the sudden stress of having a baby can bring it on in one fell swoop instead of gradually.

A quote from a professor mentioned in the article:" "Declines are somewhat normal in marriage," Stanley said. "For those having children, they are going to be more concentrated around the time that you have children." What the study doesn't capture: the richer, longer-lasting contentment that comes with building a family together, he said. "While there is a strain on the marriage from having children, a lot of couples gain this sort of deeper thing that you are growing as a family," said Stanley."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: marriages take attention and commitment.

I know couples who got divorced after the birth of their child. It wasn't the child's fault. Generally speaking, the marriage wasn't great before the baby, and the baby didn't cause the discontent--but also didn't cure it.

I think the results of the study shouldn't be taken to mean we shouldn't have children if we want to be happily married. I think it would be more beneficial to look at the reasons people are having children and the expectations they have.

Also, the study indicated the 'most romantic' couples had the most trouble. I think it's a mistake to equate 'most romantic' with 'most happily married.' The two are not interchangeable. In fact, I know couples who have had 'romantic' nights together in the midst of their divorce proceedings. It had nothing to do with happiness and everything to do with great sex. Perhaps the reason the 'most romantic' couples have the hardest time when a baby comes is they have founded their marriages on romance, and that is absolutely NOT a solid foundation for a marriage. If your entire concept of marriage is tied up in romance, there sure would be a baby shock. Having done this a lot of times, I can tell you that when you've just had a baby, every 'romantic' part of your body is in serious pain for months, and your hormones are all screwed up, and you are deeply and intensely sleep deprived just when you need extra sleep to heal, and you have a very small, very helpless person making unbelievable demands on your time and energy. A decline in romance is NORMAL. I pretty much don't want anyone to touch me for at least 2 months after a baby is born, even to get my attention, except on my terms. Given that, if I identified marriage as romance, or if my husband did, and if I didn't have the real commitment to the marriage, I might not give it a chance to bounce back, evolve, and grow.

I guess the bottom line for me is that before kids come, being married is easier. It's easier to be satisfied, romantic, and take time for each other. After kids come, taking time to pay attention to each other is harder because there's less time to go around, and there are constant interruptions in everything from casual conversation to prayer to sex. BUT my experience is that the level of happiness in your marriage (separate from 'this deeper level thing that you are growing as a family', which is still child-centered) actually grows with each child. It's not that the happiness grows automatically, but the potential grows exponentially--you just have to take advantage of it. Every marriage is going to have challenge involved, and every marriage takes attention and action to stay happy. But having children involved makes the potential for happiness greater and longer-lasting.

Besides, the couples I know who want kids and can't have them aren't exactly happy either. Being unable to have children puts strains on marriages, too.

And, having just barely tasted that pain for a year before I was able to have children, I can say without question that, given the two options, I'd pick the stresses of having children over the pain of not.

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