The demise of Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale’s 13-year marriage had many people wondering how the “perfect” couple could have gone so wrong. There is no explanation for it when a marriage this public breaks up, but given two other recent splits — Ben and Jen and Scott and Kourtney — one can’t help but wonder if the one thing all three couples had in common — three young children — was part of it.
Each one of these couples has more than two kids. Each one of these couples had their third not that long ago. Gavin and Gwen’s youngest son is 17 months while Ben and Jen’s son Samuel is 3 and Scott and Kourtney’s youngest is only six months.
When a marriage breaks up, children always think they are to blame. They aren’t. Ever. But there is no question that the stress of children can cause enormous amounts of difficulty within even the strongest of unions. One is a challenge. Two is stressful. But three. Well, God help the couple who is struggling and has three children.
I know because I have three myself.
There has been a lot of speculation about these marriages and no one can say with any certainty what really ended them. Maybe it was too much time apart. Maybe it was cheating. Maybe it was incompatibility. But as a fellow parent of three and a wife who has spent the past year trying to keep my marriage as happy as it had been before, I can say three kids almost certainly didn’t help. Even with all the nannies in the world, you still have to be parents sometimes. And three is a game changer.
When you have three, you are outnumbered by children, it’s true. But something else happens as well. The resentment in a marriage grows. There is less time to go around and what little time parents do have to themselves, they are not likely to want to spend together. That is the problem, of course. When you have three, everything drops off. The date nights. The sex. The alone time. And parents are mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. With one or two, you can still expect some alone time since one or two is manageable for one parent alone while the other gets a breather. But three? Three is a whole other ball game.
As we are well into our second full year with three kids, I look at a couple like Jen and Ben or Gavin and Gwen and I feel for them. Sure, they are 3,000 times richer than us, but they love their kids and want the best for them and even when you can hire childcare, the bulk of the worrying and love and the business of having three kids falls to the parents. It’s stressful.
So I am looking at these marriage breakups as a wakeup call for my own marriage and also warning other parents expecting three or who have recently had three: Make the time. We hire a sitter once a week now and we go on date nights. We took a weekend away a few weeks ago. Sure, I cried leaving the toddler with my parents, but the weekend was the best of our recent lives. Grownups need time together. They need conversations that can flow and not be interrupted. They need each other.
It is far too easy to forget that when there are three sets of needs and three mouths to feed, but it is necessary and vital to the marriage. Make time for it. Or else.