Why Does Marriage Get Worse After Kids?

Did your relationship go downhill after your kids arrived? You’re far from alone.

Author and psychology professor Matthew D. Johnson doesn’t mince words about it:

For around 30 years, researchers have studied how having children affects a marriage, and the results are conclusive: the relationship between spouses suffers once kids come along. Comparing couples with and without children, researchers found that the rate of the decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly twice as steep for couples who have children than for childless couples. In the event that a pregnancy is unplanned, the parents experience even greater negative impacts on their relationship.

For most people, marital discontent after having kids occurs because of the loss of their intimate friendship with their spouse. This friendship is naturally taken for granted when it’s just the two of you. Maintaining this bond is harder amid all the demands of parenthood. But it’s not impossible. Here are a few strategies for keeping your marriage strong after you become parents.

Moms Are Overburdened

Research shows that the primary childcare responsibilities still fall on women, who also do considerably more housework and spend more hours multitasking than their husbands do. It’s hard to feel romantic and connected to your husband when you’re exhausted or resentful all the time!

Talk openly about household responsibilities and how the two of you and can keep everything from falling on your shoulders. This may mean that your husband takes on additional tasks or that you rework your budget so that you can afford to hire a housekeeping service.

You Need Couple Time

In many families, life revolves around the kids’ schedules, needs and desires. This happens because of parents’ desire to do what’s best for their kids, but this isn’t best for anyone. Children do not want to be —  and should not be — the center of the universe. More than additional time, most children need parents who are more relaxed, emotionally attuned to them and involved in a loving, respectful marriage.

As a couple, you need time together to keep your relationship vibrant, but may feel guilty taking away from “family time.” Just remember that if you never prioritize your marriage, it is at greater risk for deteriorating, and that is not good either for you or your children. Children benefit from any effort you put into your marriage. For kids, seeing their parents happy with each other is an extremely stabilizing experience. That steadiness gives them a solid foundation from which to flourish.

Spending time as a couple does not have to break your budget. If you can’t afford a babysitter right now, make sure the kids are in bed early and spend some quality time with your husband in the evening. Have lunch together or take a little time here and there when the kids are in school.  If you have friends in the same boat, trade babysitting every few weeks. Give yourself permission to put your needs first at times and bring some fun back into your marriage.

Families Are Overextended

Another way to free up time for your marriage, and to change the whole atmosphere of your family, is to simplify life. As parents, we’re under tremendous pressure to do everything “right” for our kids. There’s an underlying message that you must give them every opportunity to develop their talents and interests and that you must fill their lives with memorable experiences. So we spend hours carting kids all over town to various activities, and we spend money on lessons, tutoring, elaborate birthday parties and over-the-top vacations.

Let me take some of the pressure off: Pushing children to develop every talent and excel at everything is not good for them, especially if you are forcing them well beyond their personal limits. You will not damage, deprive or prevent your child from thriving if you do not provide the “perfect” childhood as portrayed in magazines, parenting blogs and your friends’ social media feeds. Take back control of your parenting so that you and your husband are not frantically attempting to meet the latest fabricated need. Scale back activities to the ones that are truly meaningful for your family.

Despite its challenges, parenting is an experience that is truly life changing. The depth of love you can feel for a child can be absolutely breathtaking, and sharing that bond with your husband can be another source of intimacy. Children have a way of helping us become aware of our place in the life cycle and can bring tremendous joy and meaning to life. Balancing your own needs with those of the vulnerable little humans for whom you are responsible requires tremendous maturity, planning and commitment, but is entirely doable if you stay focused and simplify. Need a guide to caring for your marriage as you nurture your family? Pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Your Husband Isn’t Homer Simpson



With Father’s Day coming, it’s a good time to think about why dads and husbands are so often the butt of our jokes.

Don’t believe me? You can see stereotypes about men’s ineptitude even on Father’s Day cards. How many cards have you noticed that make fun of dads as less competent than moms, or for being interested only in sports and beer? And think about representations of husbands and dads in pop culture. You’re not alone if the bumbling Homer Simpson was the first example that sprang to your mind.

No matter how much silly cards or “Simpsons” reruns make you laugh, they carry some pretty damning messages about men: They’re little boys at heart, just another “child” for a mom to take care of. They don’t express emotions, and they certainly don’t want to talk about them. They don’t understand women, and they don’t know how to care for kids.

All these stereotypes create barriers to men’s full engagement in their relationships, especially in their roles as fathers. In the U.S., our expectations for dads are pitifully low. Maybe you’ve always believed that guys “can’t help it” if they don’t know how to take care of a child because that is just how men are wired.

But everything we are learning about our brains shoots holes in that theory. Have you heard the term “neuroplasticity”? Our brains have an amazing ability to keep evolving throughout our lives. That means that men can improve their relationship skills and learn to nurture children (if they don’t already have these skills).

And it’s my belief that more men would become involved fathers if they were allowed to do so. Just like women, men struggle with stereotypes and expectations about who they “should” be and what they can’t do. For men, it may not be considered so “manly” to put their kids above providing for the family or pursuing a successful career.  Think of how socially hard it is to be a stay-at-home dad or how many companies offer paternity leave, and you’ll see what I mean.

I believe our relationships could be so much stronger if we all had more room to be who we really are! Perhaps your low expectations haven’t given your husband room to step up as a dad, or you’ve been pushing for new behaviors, but he insists that he’s just a guy who can’t change.  Either way, the following ideas should give you some inspiration for moving beyond the old stereotypes of dads and fathers.

  • Learn to hold back. Do you believe your husband can’t handle being alone with their kids, so you never leave him alone with them? Remember that he can’t become competent with the kids unless you give him a chance to be alone with them and learn. So take off for a while, and give him the space to pick up some new skills.
  • Don’t hover or micromanage. If your husband does something like change a diaper without prompting, don’t correct him or try to get him to do it exactly the way you do. If he asks for help, give it. If not, let him do things his way.
  • Believe in him. When you’re trying to learn something new, it helps tremendously to know that your partner believes in you. Even if you have some doubts about whether he can take on something you usually handle, show him that you have faith.
  • Hold him accountable. When your husband flakes out or pulls the “guy card,” call him on it. Explain that it undermines your trust when he doesn’t follow through on something he said he would do.
  • Remember the big picture. Sometimes it feels easier to jump in and just handle something yourself, but in the long run, both of you will be happier if you’re both competent parents. So, push through your discomfort and allow change to take hold.

I wish you a wonderful Father’s Day. Go ahead and give your husband that funny Homer Simpson card, if you like. Just remember that he’s capable of far more than Homer is!