It’s what many of us look forward to – getting married and starting a family. In fact, some people spend years working toward that very goal. What many fail to plan for, however, is the stress and difficulties that children can place on a marriage. Even the strongest and most in-love couples can find that over time kids test their connection and commitment to the marriage.
This isn’t an uncommon occurrence. In fact, it would be unusual for a couple not to feel stress when they have children. Children create an enormous change in each person’s life and the dynamic of a romantic relationship. Sadly though, these changes are rarely discussed and many are unprepared to handle the relationship challenges that parenting can bring.
How Children Cause Stress
Children are a blessing, there’s no doubt about that. And the love that a parent feels for their child is difficult to describe – it’s unlike any other form of love and stronger. So how could something so joyous cause problems?
To begin with many couples, and especially first time parents, romanticize having a baby. It’s an amazing experience and there are many exciting firsts that come along with it. And let’s face it - creating another human being with the person you love is pretty incredible. But this little human being you are creating will make your two-party relationship a threesome and disrupt everything that has become normal for you as couple. The stressors that raising a child creates are taxing and can be hard to anticipate.
Some of the changes that cause the most stress in a relationship are the following.
Changes to Intimacy
Before children the opportunities to be intimate were pretty much whenever you wanted them to be (yes, this is a bit of an exaggeration). Your schedules were your own to determine and there was no one to impede you. Children end that. Whether they’re infants or teenagers they create an additional presence that affects your ability to be uninhibited and free with your affection. Not only do children require you to be a bit more choosey about your timing and covert with your behavior, they also require a great deal of energy. Even when you do have the time you may feel too tired (a common complaint among parents). This change to intimacy can take a toll on a marriage. Physical and emotional connection is a crucial part of a happy and healthy relationship. The stress of having to figure out how to keep this alive can cause big problems for many couples.
Romantic weekend get-away, girl’s trip to Vegas, or a boys fishing weekend – these sound great, right? Not so fast. Children mean that these things have to be carefully planned out now. Coming and going as you please, even just for small errands or dinners out, is no longer easy once children are part of your world. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it is a different thing for parents as individuals and as a couple. This doesn’t just apply to coming and going, but for sleep, hobbies and nearly everything else as well. Adjusting to this change in autonomy can be tough. It will require coordination and cooperation as partners to make sure each person is getting what they need while also functioning well as parents.
This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but many couples never really think through the financial changes that come with children. From diapers to day-care to even having one parent stay home, determining how and where to spend money and budget can cause big stress. It may even cause arguments as you try to balance what gets cut from the spending plan. Nail appointments or golf? Each partner may need to give things up, and at times it can feel like the balance is skewed. Money can cause tension in a marriage as it is, and when you add in the additional stress of parenting things can go to a whole new level.
This isn’t just new parenting roles, but new partner roles as well. Now that there is more than just the two of you, there are new responsibilities and new ways to divide them. Often it can feel like the share of things is slanted and it’s possible for one partner to feel resentful of the other. Often this can be because the work load is unequal or one parent feels left out of the relationship with the children. And because these roles can keep each person busy in different ways there is also the danger of a breakdown in communication between partners and this can lead to larger problems.
There is an Upside
Don’t misunderstand – this isn’t an attempt to say that having children is the beginning of the end to what was a happy relationship. Parents almost universally will tell you that having children is one of the happiest and most rewarding choices they’ve made. And there are many positives that come with creating a family.
Children are often the catalyst for positive changes in the lives of parents. They can help create a greater focus on living well, generosity, being productive, and a deeper appreciation and love for your spouse. In fact, children are often the motivating factor for partners to work through problems rather than just giving up when things get tough. They help deepen the commitment that partners have to one another and the family they created.
Starting a family is a big decision. It’s life changing in many wonderful and rewarding ways. But in order for a marriage to stay healthy and partner’s to stay happy, it’s crucial to go into things as prepared as possible. For all the happy moments there are difficult ones too. Understanding ahead of time what you will be facing and talking about them ahead of time can help you get through those difficult moments more smoothly. And it’s important to know you’re not alone. There’s not a parent out there that hasn’t faced the same difficulties and challenges that you will.