Kids have a negative impact on most marriages. Research has clearly documented that marital tension and arguments increase significantly after the birth of your first child. Marital satisfaction declines as parents grapple with the dilemma of trying to raise a child while working, being a good spouse, and maintaining some sense of individual identity.
These negative effects are not inevitable, according to research published by Alyson Shapiro and John Gottman in the 2005 Journal of Family Communications. By studying the one-third of marriages that do well in spite of children, these researchers were able to identify the three key things done by happy couples.
1. Stay friends. Marriages survive and flourish when partners stay best friends with each other. This isn’t easy once you take on the intense and never-ending responsibilities of parenthood. There are many times when children must be our first priority, resulting in placing the needs of a newborn ahead of that of our spouse. This becomes a problem when children always take precedence.
Successful couples navigate this dilemma by making certain that alone time with one’s spouse occurs on a regular and routine basis. Many parents fail at this effort because they mistakenly believe this means frequently using babysitters or going on long vacations without your child. It’s more important to spend 10 to 15 minutes daily just chatting with your spouse about what’s going on in your lives than it is to go on a weekend trip once per year.
2. Learn how to resolve conflicts. Spouses fight more frequently once children enter their lives, and those intense arguments can leave life-long scars. Successful parents disagree, but do so in a way that is gentle and understanding with each other, and avoid inflammatory language. Remember that you are talking with someone that you have committed to live with forever.
I advise couples to approach family disagreements the way they would discuss an issue at work. Avoid name calling. Pick a good time to talk. Consider a variety of options. Learn to compromise. Realize that there is rarely a single perfect solution to some problem, but rather a variety of approaches that might work.
3. Stay connected by family and personal rituals. There is something very emotionally comforting in predictable rituals. This could be something as simple as family meals, daily walks, or watching the same television program together. It’s all about staying connected to the most important person in your life—your spouse.
It’s discouraging to realize the joy of parenthood is accompanied by incredible risks. However, the good news is that with hard work and focused attention it is possible to be both a great parent and a wonderful marriage partner.