How To Keep Your Marriage Strong After Having Children

It is an understatement that once children enter the picture for most couples, life as as they know it will most never be the same.  Children can provide couples with a new meaning and purpose for love and life as a family however parenthood also comes with new types of stress and sacrifices that directly impact relationships.  Becoming parents means that priorities shift and thus time and attention that was previously directed at one another is now focused on meeting the needs of babies and children.  Lack of sleep, a decrease in intimacy, and a decrease in adult time and conversation often come with children and can promote emotional and physical distance in a marriage. Because of this, it can be very easy for couples to fall into routines centered around children that can result in neglect of the primary relationship.   According to the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, two-thirds of couples reported that they experienced a decrease in relationship satisfaction within the first three years of parenthood.   The good news is that there are steps couples can take to combat the challenges and stressors that come with parenthood that can help promote feelings of connection, new meaning, and elevated levels of relationship satisfaction.  Here are few that may be helpful to implement:

Make your partner your priority. Children require couples to modify their priorities to better fit the needs of the family, however this means that it is even more important for couples to put in the time and effort to put each other in the forefront of day-to-day life.  Marriage is the foundation that lays the groundwork for a family system to be created therefore it must be tended to in order to prevent it from crumbling.  Simply greeting your spouse immediately with a hug and kiss or checking in with each other throughout the day just to reinforce thoughtfulness can go a long way and sets a positive example for children.  

Promote mutual parenting through respect and openness.  It can be easy to get caught up in micro-managing or undermining each other regarding how to parent especially for the primary caregiver however dictating how and when things should be done creates an imbalance of power and control within the marriage.  Instead, couples should aim towards allowing each parent to make decisions and to support one another with their chosen decisions.   However, safety is always a priority so when concerns arise regarding safety issues with children, couples should engage in open, respectful communication in order to identify an agreed upon course of action.  Children who experience their parents as cohesive and supportive of one another experience less confusion and stress and are more stable and secure in their relationships among the family.

Make emotional and physical intimacy a priority.  It is ironic that the very activity that couples engage in when the goal is to create a baby is usually the first thing to go after a baby is born.  Two critical aspects that helps to establish a strong and healthy relationship in the first place are emotional and physical intimacy; therefore even if it easier to focus on the children or come up with an excuse for why you cannot put in effort to connect with your partner, it needs to be done.  If it means that couples need to schedule in intimate times in order for it to happen, then so be it. This can often give couples something to look forward to amidst the chaos of their days.

Spend quality time together away from the children.  In order to prevent the role of parenthood to take over the role of husband and wife, it can be helpful for couples to continue to engage in activities that they engaged in before having children that they found enjoyable.  Couples who are able to spend alone time together generally experience an increase in both relationship and parenting satisfaction because quality time without children offers opportunities for couples to decompress and connect.  Quality time as a couple can also illustrate to their children the importance of nurturing a marriage, which will help create positive messages and meanings for children about relationships.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT