By Margarita Nahapetyan
There is now a scientific confirmation of what many married couples and parents have been aware of for years - having a child comes with a cost of a drastic strain in a relationship and a sudden drop in marital bliss.
For 90 per cent of couples, marital satisfaction decreases within a year after the birth of the first child in the family, the experts found. However, they say that staying childless is by no means a secret to making a marriage happier over the long run. The 8-year-long study of 218 Denver-area married couples found that while those who had a child or children experienced an immediate drop in marital satisfaction, couples without any kids also became less happy - just gradually, over the time.
To come up with this results, the scientists from the University of Denver (DU) and Texas A&M, involved 134 couples who had children, and 86 couples without any kids. All the study participants have been videotaped while taking about a recent problem or argument in the family. The recordings were then analyzed by psychologists, who were taking into consideration such moments as when the husband or wife refused to talk with the other spouse, did not let the other part talk, yelled or denied being wrong. The participants also were asked to fill out appropriate yearly questionnaires about their marriages, and also had to rate how happy they felt in a relationship on the scale from 1 to 7.
The results revealed that couples who reported the most romantic relationship before the birth of a child, got the "biggest jolt at baby time," said Scott Stanley, psychology professor at DU and an author of "Fighting for Your Marriage." Couples who had children right away, within a year or so after getting married, and couples with lower household incomes also were found to have more substantial decrease in marital bliss. Declines are considered to be a natural thing in marriage, Dr. Stanley said, and added that while marriage suffers some sort of strain from having kids, for many couples it is a sort of deeper thing that leads to the development of a family with stronger bond and values.
The research, authored by Brian Doss, assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M along with the team of researchers from the University of Denver, also came to the conclusion that couples who had lived together before getting married, experienced way more problems after birth of the first child, compared to those who lived separately before marriage. However, there were few couples reporting that their relationships got stronger after having a baby. Those who had been married for a longer time, or who were more or less financially stable, reported fewer marital problems after having a child, compared to those who had been married for a shorter period of time.
"The take-away message is probably that for the average couple, having a child is a strain on the relationship," said Brian Doss. Therefore, a piece of advice from the experts to every married couple would be not to be surprised when a marriage loses some happiness over some period of time. The study also showed steeper declines in happiness if the mother's parents were divorced and if the first child in the family was a baby girl. One theory about the girl factor is that couples are more likely to have more fights and arguments when they have a daughter because the father gets less involved in child care.
The study was sponsored by a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH), and appears in a recent issue of the scientific journal Personality and Social Psychology.