Folklore will have you believe that having a child is some sort of a magic trick that fixes problems in a marriage. If you go by this logic, it would be safe to assume that for good marriages, having a child can boost relationship satisfaction. In fact, many of us do go by this assumption, despite the challenges that come with raising a youngling. We are given disclaimers by well-meaning relatives and friends that life changes once you become a parent. Common sense dictates this is accurate – think Sunday brunches replaced by visits to the paediatrician, being sleep-deprived because your baby kept you awake instead of the latest Netflix show that you binge-watched, date nights now a luxury, and sexy time… well, that’s a whole different story. Not to mention the added financial responsibilities that come with becoming mom and dad! It sounds like a big change, doesn’t it?
Certainly, this life-changing event is bound to have some impact on your marriage as well.
What happens to the emotional bond between the couple when they become more than just husband and wife? According to one study, following child birth, there is a steep deterioration in relationship satisfaction, and how steep it is depends on various factors such as the individual personalities of the parents, and marital satisfaction before parenthood. But, could it be that this dip this is a side-effect of transition?
Poorva Shourie, 30, and Aditya Jassi, 36, who have a 10 month old boy, say they became closer to each other after their son was born, despite finding it hard to spend time exclusively with each other. “We suddenly realised that we aren’t competing against each other but instead playing for the same team – team Kubby, our son,” says Poorva. Deepa, 41 and Kishlay, 45, parents to an adolescent daughter, agree. Deepa shares, “Becoming parents has made us more of a united front – from in front of our kid to dealing with world’s opinion about raising our kid!”
So, treating parenthood as team work, as opposed to a challenge, seems to be the key to a happy family?
Research confirms this sentiment. Alyson Shapiro, co-author of a study on factors that buffer a marriage against decline post parenthood, states, “We found that couples that appeared to have a strong marital friendship were the most resilient to decline in marital satisfaction when they become parents.”
In the study, they identified three factors that keep a marriage strong:
- 1. Fondness and affection for your partner;
- 2. Awareness of what’s going on in each other’s lives; and
- 3. Approaching problems with a sense of control, and something can solve together. In other words, team work!
Nidhi, 38 and Sanjeev Kapur, 43, who have two children, 14 and 4 years old respectively, deal with challenges together. “We both put forth our opinions about the certain situation. Sometimes, one of us may convince the other with reasoning. If not, we’ve even argued about it. My husband feels I’m all heart when it comes to the kids, and this may be true. Most of the time, we do come to an understanding,” says Nidhi. Worst case scenario, Sanjeev reveals, “One of us may sulk and agree.” But, as is clear, agreement between the parents is important.
Priyanka Aswal, 39, stay-at-home-mom of a 9 year old has a slightly different story to tell. Given that her husband travels frequently for work, she is often solely responsible for taking important decisions, as is the case for many full-time mothers whose partners are unavailable for logistical reasons. But, Priyanka doesn’t view this as problematic. On the contrary, she feels that it has made her emotionally independent and balanced out the power dynamic in her marriage. “A husband learns to respect his wife for the decisions she takes. My husband’s respect for me has increased remarkably over the years because he sees how I am there for our son, and how I look after all his needs. And he has always been supportive of my decisions!” The verdict is clear: Stand together as parents, and not against each other.
But, surely, there must be some challenges along the way? Some truth to the dark circles, empty bank accounts, and compromised sex lives?
“There is no denying the difference after becoming parents. There is a decline [in how often we have sex]. Our little one is very clingy to mom, so I believe it’s temporary,” says Sanjeev. Looking after an infant comes with its own unique challenges. Poorva shares, “Exhaustion takes a toll on the both of us which means we can’t sit back and just watch a movie late into the night. Also, most of our conversations revolve around what the baby did and didn’t do and that can be a bit much at times.” Aditya recognises that “Every new parent faces these challenges – sleep deprivation, differentiating myriad baby cries, trying to filter everyone’s opinions about the whys and hows. For us also, these were the main things… Kabeer is still an infant and we’re still learning on the job. The dinner and movie dates, night outs, long holidays etc, they all reduce. So we make do with a glass of Baileys and Netflix every now and then, once he’s asleep.”
Longitudinal research shows that with time, marital satisfaction goes back to what it was before the transition into parenthood. Deepa, who’s now past the most challenging phase of being a mother, is of the opinion that “A child doesn’t really change your marriage, unless you want it to or let it.”
What we’re saying is – while having a child may not make a bad marriage good, a strong one can weather the storm, and come out stronger!