Pregnant with your second, third, fourth or more? A new study gives insight on how to keep your marriage relationship healthy as you add to your family.
No doubt you've heard people say that having a baby changes everything—it was even an ad slogan. But it's true, and it even includes your marriage. As wonderful as having a family is, the day-to-day responsibility of caring for children can put a strain on any relationship. Past studies have shown that marital satisfaction drops after the birth of a child and continues to decline with each new child. But—and this will be music to parents' ears everywhere—a new study in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice shows that how couples respond to their second baby varies greatly, with many returning to the quality of their marriage before the birth.
Adapting to the new addition
Researchers looked at over 200 married couples during the pregnancy of their second child and up to a year after the baby was born. They found each individual experienced different levels of satisfaction: Some felt a honeymoon effect, in which good feelings increased briefly, others experienced a short-term decline but quickly adapted, and still others ended up in crisis mode with longer-term negative feelings. "There isn't just one response to having a second child, but many," lead author Brenda Volling, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, tells Fit Pregnancy. "Although marital satisfaction declines in general, some couples decline more than others, and others do just fine. Some couples had a smooth transition and other couples had a much rockier transition."
Although you'd think that second-time parents would be seasoned vets, several factors affected how well their marriages fared after number two. "Couples who had a more difficult time tended to have less assistance from family and friends, mothers were more depressed, and the pregnancy was more likely to have been unplanned," Volling says. And not surprisingly, the couples who communicated negatively, such as through yelling, blaming and threatening, were less satisfied that those who communicated positively through calm discussion, respect and problem solving.
How to keep your marriage thriving
The reasons for the decline in some couples' happiness hold lessons if you plan to have more kids. "If you are yelling now about who is or is not doing their share of the child care before the [second] baby is born, chances are you are probably going to be doing the same, or more, once the baby is born and things get stressful," she says. "Our findings suggest that couples are more likely to have a smoother transition if they use constructive patterns of communication with their spouses rather than yelling at one another for not doing their share of child care, such as changing diapers or putting the older one to bed." The same goes for first-time parents, she says—good communication skills are key.
Recognizing the signs of postpartum depression and having people, like your doctor, to lean on when things feel overwhelming also helps couples handle the birth of a new baby, Volling says. "Also, making sure there is a supportive network of family and friends who can help out—whether it means letting the first child spend some time with grandparents, having other parents to talk with, or having someone bring over meals so you don't have to cook—can help the couple manage the stress surrounding the transition better."
Volling notes that even when there was a big downswing in marital bliss, it usually didn't last very long—couples were often back to normal by four months—which reflects the resilience of the family bond. "There is no question things are going to change once the baby is born, and there will be a period of disruption as the couple learns how to adjust to their new roles as the parents of two children," she says. "But for most couples, they will figure out how to adapt, develop new routines, and be as happy as they were before baby number two arrived on the scene."