Fact: Kids Don’t Make Couples Happier—And How to Deal
It’s a fact that most couples are actually way more miserable after having kids. That’s okay, though. Just means you’re not alone. Here’s a breakdown of the most common issues that cause the most strife, and some ways to deal.
Let’s just get one thing straight: kids don’t make married couples happier.
At least, anecdotally, that’s what I’ve found by talking to friends with kids. But you don’t even have to take my word for it. Countless studies have concluded that there’s actually a negative relationship between having kids and marital satisfaction. Some couples would go so far as to say that the hardest part of having kids is actually maintaining a happy marriage. And it doesn’t end there—friendships and relationships with colleagues or your parents can suffer, too (but those are different articles).
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. But when you’re in it—like, in it in it—it can be rough on your relationship. For some, it’s like we might not make it kind of rough.
I, for one, feel like one of the biggest problems 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. It all makes one think, am I doing it wrong?
You’re not. It’s natural—normal, even. Few of us seem to know how to do this well. All of those happy family photos might be totally legitimate, but they’re not painting a complete picture of how much intimate life changes after junior enters the scene.
Kids do make the highs higher. But then they also make the lows lower. Maintaining a marriage during those frequent lows takes time, energy, and a lot of effort—all resources that run really short when raising kids.
After some hard conversations with friends and a little internet research, I learned that there are a few common themes most experience, which cause marital strife among couples with kids. Here they are, as well as some ideas on ways to deal.
Free time is lost. Get it back by dividing and conquering.
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. Since your first child (and certainly after more), that time is now used taking care of someone else who needs you constantly. It is spent 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. Giving each other some free time will help you recharge and give you more energy to devote to the relationship when you’re together. And the first time you do it without feeling any guilt about it can be liberating.
But here’s the important part: you should never assume that your spouse or partner knows what you need—you have to ask for it.
You’re probably assuming your partner is a mindreader. Instead, ask for what you need.
Sure, it’s extremely frustrating that they just don’t consider you or can’t pick up on your subtle hints about needing a little solo time or a baby-free day (or even a solitary moment), or help with the dishes. This is a complaint I hear from mom friends a lot. And I, for one, am also guilty of it.
But in doing so, you’re assuming your partner 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 or over what didn’t get done that you needed. The worst thing either of you can do is “just assume” something should’ve happen.
You feel under appreciated. Talk about it. Then outline responsibilities.
In traditional heterosexual relationships, studies have shown that despite how well-meaning the couple or how progressive the relationship, mothers typically tend to take the brunt of childrearing and domestic duties (heard of "invisible work"?), while fathers take on more financial responsibility. This leads to feelings of frustration, guilt, and distress for both people. Same happens when these roles are reversed for either sex.
A lot of couples really start getting resentful over these feelings, as each person feels 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, who went to the grocery store, who worked more hours—the list goes on. Keeping score will not only make you more resentful, it’s just unnecessary.
Some couples get around this by pasting a chore chart on the refrigerator or making a decision 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 is possible.
Sex? What sex? Hire help, schedule time—just get creative to end your dry spell.
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 now that kind of cute, quirky thing you loved about each other has become totally annoying, making sex little more than an afterthought. Maybe you’re just tired. Maybe you’re preoccupied.
Whatever the reason, sleep becomes way, way more appealing than having sex after having a baby for many couples—especially if you're co-sleeping. Many couples have sex half as often (if at all), and it’s twice the hassle. Keeping your romantic relationship alive is critical, but it’s okay if it takes a hit in the first year after having a new baby or several years thereafter.
Things couples do to ease the dry spell include hiring help for a dedicated night out, or they simply dedicate couple time. Every Wednesday, no matter what, is your night to go out and be yourselves. Or, every Saturday morning, Nana comes over so that you two can go on a hike. Or out to brunch. Or whatever. Some 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).
It seems hopeless sometimes. Hold on to the good.
Remember, your loving relationship is likely what made you two 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, becoming their own people, and you have to adjust to a new normal yet again. There are moments of pure joy, fun, and understanding, and moments of dread and despair, and you have to spend a lot of time working through it all. You’re not alone. You’re normal.
Hopefully, you’ll find that tenderness between you again—even if it’s in fleeting little moments. Hold on to it.