Have you experienced a decline in your marriage since having children?
Do you sometimes find yourself wishing that things could ‘go back to how they were’ with your husband or wife?
Today I’m going to be sharing with you some ground-breaking research from psychologist and best-selling author John Gottman on how to handle the changes that children bring to your married life.
Gottman has spent over 16 years observing married couples and identifying what makes a marriage last. And through his research, he has uncovered the SECRETS to maintaining a happy marriage through the transition to parenthood.
But here’s the alarming thing: majority of couples DON’T feel as happy in their marriages after having kids.
In fact, Gottman’s research has showed that 70% of wives experience a large DECLINE in their marital satisfaction in the year after their first baby is born. Seventy percent!
And it comes as no surprise that many husbands also soon start to feel unhappy in their marriages as a reaction to their wives’ low levels of satisfaction.
So why does this happen? When having children a child together is supposed to be one of the most bonding experiences of love?
In fact, you and your spouse may have never felt MORE united and in love than when you found out you were expecting.
As soon-to-be parents, you are filled with great expectations of what family life will be like. You can only imagine that having a baby will INTENSIFY the already amazing relationship you have with your spouse.
But unfortunately, the happy bliss that is brought on by the thought of having a child with the one you love often hides the realities of what life is actually like when your family grows from two to three.
First, let’s first point out the obvious: having a baby is a significant drain on your time, energy, sleep and social life. So it’s understandable that new parents have a lot of added stress in their lives once bubba comes along.
But it is not this stress which causes major strain between spouses during this time. Stress amplifies any issues, but it doesn’t CAUSE them. Just like the root cause of almost any marital problem, it all comes down to UNMET NEEDS.
As Gottman has discovered, the needs of a husband and wife can differ from one another as they go through the transition to parenthood – more than you might think.
Let’s start with what wives commonly experience when they first become parents.
New mothers go through massive changes when their baby is born, physically and emotionally. They usually report feeling an overwhelmingly deep and loving bond with their child which gives them a whole new sense of meaning in life.
The needs of her baby are put first and foremost and everything else (including herself and her marriage) comes in second place.
If her husband doesn’t experience these same life-changing feelings when the baby is born, Mom can start to feel distance between them. In fact, she can’t understand how her husband could not be feeling the exact same way that she is.
Mom has a strong need to feel that her husband is as committed as she is to the baby’s wellbeing.
Right now, what would make her feel the MOST loved and supported by her husband is not if he devoted lots of love and attention to HER, but if he devoted all of his love and attention to the BABY, just as she is.
But often husbands don’t quite understand what their wives are needing from them at this stage and feel ‘out of the loop’ when it comes to looking after their child (as we will discuss in more detail below).
Stay-at-home moms may also experience a sense of being disconnected to the ‘real world’ when they are looking after their children full-time, which can only be alleviated if they share the childcare with their husbands and sometimes take some time-out.
If a wife perceives her husband isn’t putting in as much effort into the childcare as she would like him to be, she may feel abandoned and start to block her husband out.
This is what can lead a wife to start feeling dramatically lowered levels of marital satisfaction.
For new dads, it can be a different story of transition into parenthood. While Dad also feels a deep sense of love and protectiveness towards his newborn baby, he may not experience a change in worldview as earth-shattering as his wife’s.
While the baby seems to be taking up 100% of his wife’s time and attention at this time, Dad may be still just as focused on his wife and her needs as the baby’s.
Dad doesn’t understand why his attempts to meet his wife’s love needs right now are no longer successful, because he doesn’t realize these needs have CHANGED.
He doesn’t realize that it means more to her at the moment for him to focus his affections on their baby than to focus his affections on HER.
The hard thing is, what DAD really needs right now is affection from his wife to reassure him that he is doing a good job and that he is still important to her.
But due to his wife being so engrossed in taking care of the baby, she may have little time or energy for taking care of him and his needs. She may also neglect to give him the reassurance he so needs about his competence as a Dad.
And as a result, he feels shut out and a little helpless as a parent in comparison to his wife. Although he enjoys spending time with his baby and tries to help out with everything, it may seem like his baby needs its mother more than him, for instance when it comes to things like breastfeeding.
He feels neglected and a bit resentful that the baby is taking so much from its mom, and begins to miss his wife and grieve for what the relationship once was.
As a result, he may start to withdraw and leave more and more of the parenting to his wife. And if his wife senses this resentment and withdrawal, it can make her feel unsupported and even LESS likely to consider her husband’s needs.
Lack of communication about the different experiences a husband and wife may go through when they become parents, ON TOP of the added pressure that a baby brings, can cause the marital relationship to go downhill.
In this situation, neither spouse feels that THEIR needs are being met, nor do they understand how to meet their SPOUSE’S needs.
So how do you avoid this crisis in your marriage after having kids??
Luckily, John Gottman’s research has revealed the secrets to making your marriage THRIVE through the transition to parenthood.
They all lie in the steps below:
1. Go through the transition to parenthood as a TEAM
The 30% of new mothers who DO remain highly satisfied in their marriages are the ones who feel that their husbands prioritize their baby’s needs just as much as they do and make special efforts to bond with the baby.
If you’re a new dad, recognize that your wife is going to have a new number one priority right now. But rather than resenting your baby for taking time away from her, realize that the greatest way to stay connected with your wife is to join her in putting your baby first.
Through bonding with your infant together, you will also increase your bond with each other.
Understand that parenting is new territory for both of you, and it may come more naturally to one of you than the other.
But this doesn’t mean that the other parent is any less competent. They may just need a little more encouragement and time to get used to caring for your baby to become more confident.
So don’t shoot your team-mate down if he or she does something differently to how you would have done it yourself – often there is more than one right way.
2. Communicate and meet each other’s needs in the best way you can
Now that you are aware that your spouse may have quite different love needs to your own right now, it’s important to discover what these needs are so you can support them.
You also need to identify and communicate your OWN needs to your spouse, so they know the best way to support and love you right now.
Your spouse’s needs ARE still important, despite the fact that you are busy with your baby. Even though you are now parents, Dad still needs to be loved by his wife and Mom still needs to be loved by her husband.
In fact, you and your spouse will be able to be better parents if you are keeping each other’s love banks filled.
The more love you receive from each other, the more love you will have to give to your baby.
So although your baby’s needs may take priority, your baby is not your ONLY priority. This means making sure that you don’t brush off anything your spouse requests of you at the moment as being ‘silly’ or ‘trivial’ – it may mean a lot more to them than you realize.
3. Share the baby-care
Even when one parent is a stay-at-home parent, it’s important for the care of the baby to be shared.
Sometimes moms (this is just a generalization) can take on the ‘expert’ parent role and start to ‘take-over’ when it comes to child-care.
Even if they have the best intentions at heart, this can make their husbands feel inferior, clumsy and clueless in comparison. And as a result, dad’s confidence levels may start to drop and he may stop trying.
To avoid this from happening, mothers need to back off sometimes and let dad take the lead in caring for the baby. Find ways to include dad into routines such as baby feeding, even when he can’t do the actual breastfeeding himself.
You CAN give parenting advice to your spouse when necessary, but be gentle in the way you put it across.
Remember, there is more than one right way of doing things. If a husband feels criticized in his parenting, this will only make him even less likely to want to engage.
What Gottman found out was that sometimes dads don’t feel as much of an initial connection with their baby as mothers, until the baby develops enough to be able to interact and play.
But if they spend enough time with their baby, they will soon realize that babies are actually very interactive. So encourage time for Dad to bond and play with the baby.
And if there is one predominantly stay-at-home parent, make sure they are given the chance to take a break and re-enter the outside world every once and a while for their own sanity.
4. Make time for each other
It’s important to still make quality time with your spouse a priority after you have a baby.
Don’t let life get in the way – you can always organize babysitters to give you both a short break. Take your kids to their grandparents’ or auntie’s every once and a while for an evening or weekend.
As your children grow older and more independent, it will be easier to find time to spend with one another. As parents of a newborn, you really need to make an extra effort to fit this time in. But it will all be worth it for the health of your relationship.
Time alone with your spouse doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your children when you are together – of course it is natural for you to want to talk about them!
But be sure to find out everything else that is going on in your spouse’s life as well, and check in on how they are coping. It’s okay if you are feeling overwhelmed – every parent gets to this point at some stage.
Kiss and cuddle and celebrate the fact that you have created life together. Acknowledge how much you admire one another for everything you do for your children and for each other. Remember, you are one another’s biggest supporters.
If you and your spouse can make it through the transition to parenthood as a team who supports and nurtures one another as well as your baby, you will discover that an even deeper love exists.