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Marriage After Children

May 1, 2011 | by Emuna Braverman

Two-thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child.

“About two-thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child,” according to a study cited in a recent (04/29/11) Wall Street Journal piece. That’s a large drop. They go on to theorize why this is so. And while it is certainly true that who gets up at night (Raise your hand if you’ve ever pretended to be asleep so that your spouse will get up with the baby!) and who changes the next diaper can be sources of tension, I don’t think that can explain this dramatic statistic.

The real question, I believe, is how the marriage is viewed now that there is a child. And how does the husband/now father look at his new role? How does the wife/now mother look at hers?

I think the quality of the marriage diminishes if either side makes the crucial mistake of forgetting to focus on this central relationship.

Mothers too often feel that parenting has become their sole focus. If they think about their husband at all, they decide that since he is an adult, his needs can wait. And while that is certainly true in the moment that an infant is screaming to be fed or changed, it is not true as a general principle or for the rest of the time. The husband’s needs – or shall we say the marriage’s needs – still take precedence.

There must still be time set aside for the couple even if it must be, of necessity, very brief. Yes, I know, new (and old) mothers are frazzled and sleep-deprived. But if we don’t attend to our marriages, we’ll be frazzled, sleep-deprived and lonely!

Some women also need to fight against the instinct that they “know better” or they should “do it all” which frequently leaves their husband feeling like an outside peering in. And what’s even worse, useless to boot (a feeling men particularly despise).

On the other hand, men have to dive in and insist on being hands-on. Child-raising is not exclusively “women’s work” and husbands/fathers need to be physically and emotionally available to their wife and child. (Diaper-changing is NOT a uniquely feminine skill!)

Men have their own battles to wage. They frequently have to fight against the initial limitations of their role (especially if their wife is breast-feeding) and against their jealousy. Yes, you read that correctly. Although rarely admitted in public, many husbands feel jealous of the time and the attention the infant gets, time they perceive is taken away from them. They’re not always wrong…but they need to acknowledge the sentiment and then move to a more realistic and, dare we say, enlightened, position.

Like all marital issues, these problems are solved though awareness, discussion and effort. And since we say that there are three partners in the creation of a child – the mother, the father and the Almighty - it doesn’t hurt to enlist His help as well.

Think of parenting as another adventure/responsibility/challenge that the two of you are embarking on together. Set aside (at least) 10 to 15 minutes per day to talk, to connect. Even if someone’s eyes are half-shut, the effort will make a difference. Try to choose a time that makes sense and will work consistently. After one of our children was born, my husband decided that time would be when I got up for the (approximately) 2 a.m. feeding. He would arise as well and we would chat then. Let me just say I don’t recommend that strategy.

Remember that this child is a gift for both of you to raise and an opportunity for growth individually and as a couple.

And remember, the Talmud that tells us that “a man doesn’t die except to his wife.”

It’s hard to believe when you look at this helpless infant but, please God, someday that child will leave you to start his own home.

You want to make sure you’ve nourished your marriage along the way. And it starts at the very beginning. If you have made this mistake, you can still put the pieces back together again, but it’s harder.

And if it’s still early days, don’t take any chances. Give your spouse attention as often as you can. This applies to both parties! Don’t be dismissive of their needs. Enlist their help. Share your fears and your joys.

I find the results of these studies particularly disturbing because it doesn’t have to be like that (not before adolescence anyway!).

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