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Kids Can Make a Beautiful Marriage Ugly

Study: Marital Satisfaction Takes a Dive When Baby Arrives
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 14, 2009 -- The birth of children has an immediate negative impact on even blissfully happy couples, raising stress and reducing satisfaction levels of husbands and wives, new research says.

Reasons for the negative toll kids take on marriage vary between men and women, but researchers say satisfaction levels start dropping as soon as children are born.

The findings of the study, by Brian Doss, PhD, of Texas A&M University, and University of Denver psychologists Galena Rhoades, PhD, Scott Stanley, PhD, and Howard Markman, PhD, are published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

They studied 218 young couples (about 26 years old), 132 of which had their first child in the first eight years of marriage and 86 who had no children. Marital satisfaction declined in both groups, but more suddenly among those who had children.

There was a significant decrease in marital satisfaction for both men and women after the birth of a child. Sudden increases in problem intensity and poor conflict management, and decreases in relationship confidence, were seen in mothers after birth; a sudden decrease in relationship dedication was seen in fathers.

In the couples without children, declines in marital satisfaction occurred gradually over time. Men had decreased relationship dedication, as well, over time.

Mothers with daughters had greater decreases in marital satisfaction compared to mothers who had boys. The authors write that their findings are “consistent with previous studies that have shown that male children are associated with lower rates of divorce and higher marital satisfaction, possibly because fathers of girls are less active in childcare than fathers of boys.” 

“Part of that might be, it’s a little easier for dads to connect to boys,” Rhoades tells WebMD.

Rhoades, the senior researcher, says the psychologists didn’t specifically ask if the impact of babies on sexual relations was a reason for less overall satisfaction. But she adds that a new baby’s impact on a couple’s love life is undoubtedly reflected in happiness measures.

“In about one third of the relationship domains that we looked at, women are reporting significantly greater relationship problems caused by the birth,” Doss tells WebMD. “This may be because, typically, women take up the lion’s share of the child care and, if they were working before the birth, have many more employment-related adjustments to work through.

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