First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes...the baby in the baby carriage! And with that little bundle of joy comes a new level of responsibility and an abundance of new stressors. Studies have shown that the vast majority of couples experience a decline in marital satisfaction with the birth of a new baby. After hearing this repeated over and over again, I wanted to figure out how to prevent that from happening, since we were expecting our first child. So when I was given the task of writing a lengthy research paper on a stressor families experience, I jumped at the opportunity to study the transition to parenthood.
I was dismayed, at first, to notice that every study I read, every paper I perused, indicated that couples decreased in their marital satisfaction. After researching for quite some time, my professor indicated that he knew of a study where couples whose marital satisfaction increased with the birth of a new baby were analyzed (Shapiro, A., Gottman, J., & Carrere, S. (2000). The baby and the marriage: Identifying factors that buffer against decline in marital satisfaction after the first baby arrives. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(1), 59-70.)
This study found that there were 6 common factors among couples whose relationships improved with the birth of their first child:
-husbands expressing fondness and affection toward wives
-husbands' high awareness of spouse and relationship
-good quality of marital friendship (surpassing romantic infatuation)
-high level of marital adjustment prior to the birth of a baby
-high pre-natal marital satisfaction
-positive perception of parenthood
I was so happy to see the keys to avoiding that decline in marital satisfaction. Of course Sam and I don't have a perfect marriage, but I think being aware of these factors has helped the transition to parenthood go more smoothly.
Additionally, there are two things my parents were examples of that I have learned are essential for a strong family relationship:
-a weekly date
-not allowing anything--even your children--to come between you
When my dad was in graduate school and was not able to be home much at all, those weekly dates helped keep my mom sane with five small children and countless other responsibilities in Church, school, etc. Now, as Sam is in graduate school and is gone from approximately 5:30 am to 7:00 pm every day and often comes home only for 30 minutes or so before he has to dash out the door again to fulfill one of his Church callings or other responsibilities, I have learned the importance of that weekly date. When we were married, our sealer told us to continue our courtship through our marriage. Striving to do that, especially after the birth of our baby, has really helped us.
I remember that whenever we were sitting together as a family, whether it was at Church or another activity, none of the kids were allowed to sit in between my parents. They always sat next to each other. This was just one way they taught us that nothing would come between them. Additional studies have shown that there is an increase in divorce after about 25-30 years of marriage, because the children leave home and the couple is left alone and realizes they no longer know each other--they had lived through their children. Nurturing the marriage relationship first, before the relationship with the children, is crucial.
Of course I realize that I am still a newlywed, and don't really have experience with how to make a marriage last. But I just wanted to share some of my thoughts and some things I have learned about making the transition to parenthood a pleasant one. So for all of you newlywed couples out there, although the world will tell you to expect your marital satisfaction to decrease with the birth of a child, don't let that scare you off! Being a parent has truly increased our joy and our love for one another.