Jan. 22, 2001 -- In the old days, Bill and Heather McGill, both
33, sometimes wouldn't go out until 11 p.m. on weekends. "Living in
Chicago, there was always something to do," says Bill, a certified
By Jessie Knadler
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So the McGills (not their real name) would catch a movie and
dinner, often staying out until 3 a.m. Then, after 10 years of being a couple,
and a year after they got married, their firstborn, a son, arrived.
"When you have a kid," says Bill, laughing, "you're
in bed by 11."
"It was a total lifestyle change," Heather says. And
not just for their social life. "
Romance was ..." Heather's voice trails off. "God, I don't think
there was much." Bill echoes the question. "Sex? It didn't happen. Our
boy was a vampire. He would stay up until all hours."
Adjusting to a tiny new family member has never been easy. Over
the years, researchers have found that when a baby enters the family, the marriage can
suffer and even disintegrate. A third of all divorces occur within the first
five years of a marriage, according to 1991 data from the National Center for
Health Statistics. And for many couples, that slippery slope to divorce begins
with a decline in the wife's marital satisfaction after the first baby arrives,
numerous studies have shown, including one appearing in December 1998 in
Marriage and Family Review.
More recently, however, a study by University of Washington
researchers has found that marital satisfaction doesn't have to decline after
the firstborn arrives. Some couples maintain the same level -- or even boost it
-- despite a nonstop schedule of diapering, feeding, and working.
The Satisfaction Study
In work appearing in the Journal of Family Psychology in
March 2000, Alyson Fearnley Shapiro, a doctoral student and the lead author,
and her co-researchers (including University of Washington psychology professor
John Gottman, well known for his research on the marital bond) followed 82
newlywed couples for four to six years. During the study, 43 couples became
parents and 39 did not. Using interviews and questionnaires, their marital
satisfaction was measured annually in several categories: fondness and
affection; "we-ness" (the tendency to use terms that indicated unity in
the marriage); "expansiveness" (the degree of expressiveness about the
relationship); negativity; and disappointment/disillusionment. Declines in
marital satisfaction were noted both among new fathers and new mothers, Shapiro
says. Yet since the trend appeared to be significantly more pronounced in the
women, the researchers elected to zero in on that group.
Among the new moms, 67% reported declines in satisfaction. But
when the researchers looked at the 33% who maintained the same level of
satisfaction or increased it, they identified specific strategies that seemed
to help. These included: