Let’s just get one thing straight: kids don’t make couples happier.
Sure, there are lots of happy moments with kids. There are all the milestones, the first words, the cuddles, the unconditional love. Kids change you in ways you could never imagine. And when they’re gone, they make you feel like you actually did something meaningful with your life (at least, that’s the hope). But when you’re in it — like, in it in it — it can be rough on your relationship. Real rough.
You don’t have to take our word for it — countless studies have concluded that there’s actually a negative relationship between having kids and marital bliss. Some couples would go so far as to say that the hardest part of having kids is actually maintaining a happy marriage. Friendships and relationships with colleagues or even your parents can suffer too.
The problem is that no one wants to talk about it. A lot of couples don’t even want to admit it to themselves. And daily images of happy, smiling families on social media don’t make matters any better. All of it makes one think, am I doing it wrong?
You’re not. It’s natural — normal, even. All of those happy family photos might be totally legitimate, but they’re not painting a complete picture.
Kids do make the highs higher. But then they also make the lows lower. Maintaining a marriage during those frequent low lows takes time, energy and a lot of effort — all resources that run really low when raising kids. It’s tough, but doable.
So that you know your’re not alone, here are the biggest issues that cause the most strife among couples with kids, as well some ways to deal.
In your previous life, you probably had this glorious thing called time. Time was used for the simple day-to-day stuff that gave you purpose and made you feel happy, like working out, reading, or going out to dinner. Essentially, you had time to take care of yourself. After kids, that time is now used as energy spent taking care of someone else who needs you constantly. It becomes time wrangling uncooperative toddlers at bedtime and schlepping everyone around for afterschool activities.
What works for some couples in finding that time again is dividing and conquering. You do a few hours here, and I take a few hours there. But you should never assume that your spouse or partner knows what you need — you need to ask for it.
Sure, it’s extremely frustrating that they just don’t think to consider you or can’t pick up on your subtle hints about needing a baby-free day (or even moment). But in doing so, you’re assuming they’re a mind reader, and that will only lead to more frustration. Be clear about what you need to be happy and then figure out a time to make that happen — daily, weekly, whatever works (but better if daily). Maybe it’s telling your spouse on a Tuesday that you want three hours to yourself on a Saturday. Don’t wait until the weekend to fight over who gets that free time.
Giving each other that free time will help you recharge and give you more energy to devote to the relationship when you’re together.
In traditional relationships, studies have shown that despite how well-meaning the couple or how progressive the relationship, mothers tend to take the brunt of childrearing and domestic duties, while fathers pick up more of the financial responsibility of the household. This leads to feelings of frustration, guilt and distress for both people.
A lot of couples really start getting resentful over this, as each person feel like they’re giving more than they’ve got and not getting a lot of credit for it. Many even secretly start keeping score of, well…everything. Who woke up to soothe the baby last, who did the dishes, who did bedtime routine. Keeping score will not only make you more resentful, it’s just unnecessary.
Some couple get around this by pasting a chore chart on the refrigerator or duking it out with a game of rock-paper-scissors. Whatever the system, outline the responsibilities you are doing and what you expect your partner to do. Easier said than done, but it can be done.
You and your partner probably got along swimmingly before kids came along and ruined your perfectly happy life of total freedom. Maybe you were best friends. Maybe you had some issues, but you could forgive and forget. And those kind of cute, quirky things you loved about each other have become totally annoying, making sex more than an afterthought.
Sleep becomes way, way more appealing than having sex after having a baby for many couples. Most couples have sex half as often (if at all), and it’s twice the hassle. Keeping the romance alive is critical, but it’s okay if it takes a hit in the early years.
Things couples do to ease the dry spell include hiring help for a dedicated night out. Every Wednesday, no matter what, is your night to go out and be yourselves. Other couples actually schedule it into their weeks. It might seem unromantic, but it’s really no different than when you were dating and scheduling nights to see each other (and then spend the night).
Remember, your loving relationship is what made you parents in the first place. But no matter how strong your relationship was prior to having kids, there’s always going to be some doubt about whether or not your marriage can handle it.
Truth is, there will be tough years as both of you adjust to being new parents, and more tough years as your kids grow into becoming their own people. There are moments of pure joy, fun and understanding, and moments of dread and despair.
You’ll undoubtedly share tender moments with your partner obsessing over the perfect little human you brought into the world, and, hopefully, you’ll find that tenderness between you again. Hold on to it. And remember that you both probably want to make it work. You’re not alone here, and giving up before it gets really good might be the biggest mistake you can make.