Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
Discovery Institute, P.A. Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County
“Children & Marital Happiness: Why the Negative Correlation?” I read this title of a research study conducted by Lynn White, Alan Booth, & John Edwards recently and it got my attention. The study states that a negative correlation was found between children and marital happiness, meaning that couples with children were not found to be as happy as couples without children. It is important to remember that correlation does not equal causation, therefore, the study is not stating that it is the children’s fault for the unhappiness in the marriage but that the two factors were found together.
Does this mean that couples who have children are doomed for an unhappy marriage? Absolutely not! The study states that they found two reasons for this difference, one of which can be overcome and the other makes the results seem misleading. The first reason is the couples with children may be dissatisfied with the marital structure such as with the division of labor in the home and with the labor being divided up more traditionally as well as dissatisfaction over finances. No one can argue that it costs a lot of money to raise a child and with the added work of raising children, it may be necessary for one partner to stay at home and therefore there may be a loss of income. In addition, many families do fall back on gender role expectations of having the mother be the caregiver and homemaker and the father be the breadwinner. In today’s society though, fathers want to be more involved in their children’s lives and some mothers may resent not being able to continue working which could cause unhappiness in their roles.
The second reason is that couples with young children who are unhappy in their relationship may stay in the relationship longer than their unhappily married counterparts who don’t have children. Many parents worry about the effects a divorce will have for their children and therefore tough out a relationship in which they are not happy for the kids. Couples without kids, do not have this added reason to stay together and therefore may have a higher divorce rate which also makes it appear as though couples without children are happier when in reality, those relationships dissolve and therefore were not counted in the study.
So what does this mean for couples with children? Couples need not worry about these results but at the same time should be aware of how having children can impact a relationship. Relationships are hard work and stress of any kind (illness, financial loss, mental health, others meddling, etc) can break down the positive lines of communication. Couples need to attempt to be present in their relationship as much as possible and to evaluate their happiness periodically. When they determine they are not happy, it may be helpful to evaluate what is causing this unhappiness and to come up with a plan to fix it. In some cases it may be necessary to obtain the help of a marriage therapist. It is also important to remember the reasons you fell in love with your significant other, before you were parents, and to put effort into your relationship and not only into providing for the family and caring for the children.
If you are in the Rockledge area and looking for a counselor I would be happy to talk with you.