First comes love, then comes marriage, then come babies… That can test even the strongest of bonds. From the lack of sleep to the lack of time to even change one’s spit-up-covered shirt for days, relationships often look nothing like they did before there was a little one around whom your life must revolve.
So is your marriage doomed to be driven apart by diapers and day care decisions as you add to your brood? While previous research has indicated that marital satisfaction drops after the birth of additional children, an optimistic new study says that might not be so.
In a study of more than 200 couples published in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, researchers from the University of Michigan found that while there is a brief period when marriages get more difficult after a second baby is born (about four months), a year later, most marriages were just as happy as before the children entered the picture. They also found the transition after having a second child is easier than the one after having a first child.
They’re not saying a second baby will fix a marriage, but it is a welcome contradiction to previous findings that the more children, the more miserable a marriage.
How do these studies play out behind the numbers, though? We asked moms how a second child has affected their marriages, and like the studies, the answers were mixed.
Sasha, a mom of three, said the birth of her second child did, in fact, improve her marriage. “Babies in general made our marriage better. We have a shared sense of purpose and adoration.”
Ashley says that while it definitely changed things, having a second baby did strengthen her marriage. “We do have less time for sex and romance, which neither of us likes, but we’re united in our exhaustion, so neither of us feels like the other is ignoring our needs. I think if anything, a second baby just deepened the sense of partnership that was already there.”
Others, like Amanda, say a second baby added more stress and resentment to her relationship, but it was a third that actually helped.
“I became a stay-at-home mom once baby number two arrived, and I think my husband thought that meant that he wouldn’t have to contribute any more time than he was when we only had one child,” Amanda said. “It wasn’t until baby number three came along that he woke up and started pitching in more.”
For mom A., it’s her sex life that has suffered most since baby number two. “I was determined to buck the trend of ‘married people don’t have sex anymore’ after my first kid. I did a great job. After the second? Not so much.”
While every family is different, the one thing experts agree on is that couples have to put in the work if they want a marriage to work — and it just might take a bit more work after children. From making small gestures to doing the unexpected, there are plenty of ways to spice up a marriage after kids as well as important relationship pitfalls to avoid.
Marriage will never be the same after kids as it was before, but working together to make a new and more meaningful normal is the best bet for happiness. Mom Jessica summed it up perfectly: “We are fighting the same battle with the second one. If we don’t work together, she’s going to overthrow us.”