While in many ways a baby is regarded as a bundle of joy, research shows that children are actually a risk factor for divorce. After having a baby, 67 percent of couples see their marital satisfaction plummet, according to research by John Gottman, Ph.D., that was published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
Is it any wonder?
Children bring stress, distance and frustration to a marriage or partnership — not to mention lack of sleep and, often, pressures around finances and child care.
Now imagine how much stress parenthood adds to an already struggling marriage.
But there is hope. Having a baby can improve your partnership, too. Especially if, according to a paper cowritten by Gottman summarizing research that tracked marital satisfaction, partners have a fondness and high regard for each other before the baby comes.
The transition to parenting is tough. I’ve been there. And it turned out that it wasn’t all that bad. Here are four unexpected ways having a baby affected my struggling marriage.
1. An increase in admiration
Over the past six years, I have seen my husband, Rico, go through many changes. (Considering that I met him in middle school, I’ve actually been shocked by the many ways he’s grown and changed, but that is another story.)
Watching him shift from a gamer to a dad has been wonderful to witness. Don’t get me wrong, he is still very much a gamer. But I can see his priorities shifting.
He’s more inclusive. Now he sings game theme songs out loud so the baby can dance along. He allows the baby to hold the controller to follow what he does. My husband will pause a board game with friends to change a diaper.
Men are not shown frequently in caretaking roles, but times are changing. While my husband is far from being a stay-at-home dad, I see him engage closely with our son as often as he can, and I love him for it. Seeing him in his new role, diving fully into parenting challenges, has been amazing. I love watching him grow, and I love the way those observations have increased my admiration for him.
2. An increase in attraction
My husband is fyne. And no piece of information could convince me otherwise. His looks played a huge role in my picking him. He says I don’t act on it, but those things — physical attraction and chemistry — mean a lot to me.
Few things make him as attractive to me as seeing him as an active father.
An unsolicited diaper change causes me to stare awestruck and appreciate his beauty. He is much more patient than I am, and I am so grateful for — and attracted to — the balance he provides. Maybe this increase in attraction that results from witnessing my partner move into fatherhood is some kind of evolutionary response. I feel affirmed that I did a good job picking my life partner and my son, Salem’s, dad. Sometimes it even creates a buffer for all my husband’s annoying qualities — ha-ha.
We have a musical household. My husband and I will make a jingle out of anything. And occasionally, that jingle involves dancing. Being that my mom is the life of any party, I always assumed I would naturally be the “fun” parent.
Somehow, my 7-month-old missed that memo.
Whose songs does he laugh at the most? Daddy’s. Who has invented a game called “baby aerobics” that stops crying? Dad. Who look likes twins? Salem and Rico. Salem spoke his first word last week, and guess what it was? “Da-da.” Don’t get me wrong, I am in love with their bond. And I know Salem is blessed to have such an awesome dad. But I wasn’t prepared for the annoyance I sometimes feel as I watch him instantly calm a baby I’ve been trying to soothe for hours. I am grateful, with a hint of jealousy.
4. An increase in teamwork
Before baby, I never felt like my husband and I were a “family.” We were a couple with pets. Every disagreement we had, there was his side and a my side. We were self-centered — not abnormal for two people who eloped at 22.
Now that our son is here, it feels like we are less free agents and more of a team. It’s funny to say, but we now have a common interest and a common enemy.
We have joined forces to defeat the evil of dirty diapers, tantrums and trash eating. Through Salem, we have learned just how much stronger we are together. We have a common goal of keeping this strange creature alive. We are a team.
Marriage is a challenge. Parenting is a challenge. Put them together and there can be many “I quit!” moments.
Despite all the chaos we have been through, I truly believe parenthood has enriched our marriage. And I can’t see myself embarking on this journey with anyone else.
Having a child raises the stakes. Our baby is a motivation to work together and continue to fight for our family. And I don’t think that is a bad thing at all.