Babies: A Recipe for Marital Bliss or Dissatisfaction?
When a couple plans to have their first child, they generally don't do so with an expectation of increasing the strain in their marriage or of creating unhappiness. Typically when couples plan to have children they do so with beliefs that children will have a positive impact on their life, happiness, and marriage. People often enter parenthood certain that a baby will solidify their marriage, make their connection with their partner stronger or make them more of a family.
According to an article in the October issue of Monitor on Psychology, 67 percent of couple see marital satisfaction plummet after having a baby. Drs. John and Julie Gottman have found over the course of two decades of research that parental conflict and hostility is not only bad for marital satisfaction, but is also bad for children, increasing the possibilities of depression, poor social skills and conduct disorder.
To address the problem, the Gottmans studied couples who did remain happy after having a baby and, based on their research, developed a program to help expecting couples maintain marital happiness even after baby. And, according to a trial published in the Journal of Family Communications, their program works. Participants in the Gottmans 2-day workshop were more likely to remain satisfied with their relationships and less likely to experience post-partum depression than those who didn't participate in the workshop.
The secret to marital satisfaction, after the birth of a baby, according to the Gottmans can be found in their "Sound Relationship Theory." Friendship, intimacy, constructive conflict and shared meaning are considered central to marital satisfaction. Their workshop includes activities to fortify these areas of a marriage.
Examples of activities from the Gottmans workshop include:
- Teaching couples to begin discussions of areas of conflict in productive ways, by opening gently and having couples make 5 positive statement about your partner for every 1 negative statement during an argument.
- Exploring shared life goals sometimes with fun and silly questions to get couples to talk about goals regularly.
- Speaking in terms of "we" as a couple.
- Teaching relaxation imagery.
- Finding shared meaning and connecting through daily rituals, such as eating dinner together or family play time.
The Gottmans admit that they haven't solved all relationship problems, but several studies show that their approach is effective.