(Post by RHONA BERENS, PhD, CPCC)
When it comes to relationships, I’m a research junkie. I love studies about the things that foster and hinder couples’ happiness and fulfillment. Familiarizing myself with the research helps me improve my own marriage and assist the clients with whom I work.
Yet no matter how many times I read it, I’m especially wowed by the data on the impact of babies on parents’ relationships. Here’s the cliff-notes version:
66% of couples report a significant decline in relationship satisfaction in the 1 to 3 years after the birth of their first child, and 90% agree there’s at least some decline after their baby is born.
What about those of us who decide to have more than one kid? Studies are limited, but when researchers are asked to guess, they usually say it’s likely that subsequent children diminish parents’ relationship happiness even more.
In short: Yowsa!
Don’t get me wrong. If you asked most parents whether or not we regret having kids, I’m confident the vast majority—myself included—would shout a resounding: “Hell no, at least not most days.”
But if you ask us whether or not having children has taken a toll on our relationships with spouses, I’m confident that “Hell yes!” is what most of us—again, myself included—would say.
Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when parents talk about marriage as the price they had to pay to have a family. Bottom line: many of us believe parenting, in combination with the rest of life’s obligations, is too demanding or we’re just too exhausted to nourish and improve our relationships.
Trust me. I’m not saying it’s easy to stay connected with spouses when we have a family. My wife and I have an infant, and a preschooler, and on some (most?) days the only connection we can muster is a quick hug as we’re heading in opposite directions to tend to our kids.
Yet in contrast to thinking we have to sacrifice our marriages to have children, I believe it’s our birthright to be in fulfilling relationships. A friend of mine thinks I sound “cultish” when I use words like birthright, but I’m going to run that risk.
I believe in the importance—heck, even sacredness—of parents having fulfilling relationships, first, because being happy with spouses enhances our joy as individuals. Also, if we’re satisfied and fulfilled with each other, you can bet we’re doing our part to model a slew of really important behaviors for our kids: e.g., good communication, conflict resolution, curiosity, teamwork, compassion and empathy.
What do satisfied and fulfilled mean? That’s for you and your spouse to define together. Where I hope this blog comes into your equation…
PARENT ALLIANCE® is devoted to a different story: One about strengthening, honoring, and sustaining our relationships as parents; one about creating an alliance with our spouses—as a couple, as a parenting team—that’s good for us individually, for each other, for our relationship and, yes, for our kids.
That other story, the one devoted to making sure our intimate relationships thrive after we have children, is what’s going to drive this blog. In the coming weeks, months and, I hope, years, I’ll be sharing ideas on how to create a PARENT ALLIANCE®, including some of the tools I use with couples, which you’ll be able to explore with your spouse (or even on your own if he or she isn’t into them).
Maybe if more of us knew how to create those kinds of alliances, we’d be able to teach more children about how to do relationships, how to be parents, and how to do both at once in a way that’s fulfilling, exciting, and lasting. Who knows what that future might hold? I’d really love to find out. I hope you’ll join me here, on PARENT ALLIANCE®, to write that story together.
Rhona Berens PhD, CPCC, Los Angeles, California
Rhona is a certified Individual & Relationship Coach, and mom to a preschooler and infant. She’s passionate about giving couples tools and information so their relationships thrive after they have kids. That’s why she founded Parent Alliance®, a relationship resource for expecting couples and parents of young children. Rhona coaches individuals and couples across North America via phone and online video and offers workshops and tele-classes to parents and the professionals who support them (e.g., Doulas). Rhona’s known for being a compassionate, accessible and fun coach, and her clients report improved communication, less conflict, happier relationships, and co-parenting success. In addition to contributing to A Hopeful Sign, Rhona writes for mamapapa.ca, thenextfamily.com, pregnancy.org, pregnancyawareness.com and planningfamily.com. Rhona grew up in Toronto and resides in Los Angeles with her wife, their kids, and their very persnickety cat. To learn more about Rhona and Parent Alliance®, check out www.parentalliance.com or follow her on Twitter at @AParentAlliance.Tweet