Becoming a parent is one of the greatest joys that life offers. It also happens to be one of the most challenging and most exhausting decisions. That is why it is not an understatement to say that even the healthiest of marriages crack under the heavyweight of introducing a child into the family dynamic.
New parents have to manage the likelihood of sleep deprivation, financial hardship, postpartum depression, and the responsibility of raising a child. It’s safe to say that parenting isn’t easy, and the toll it takes can be devastating for a marriage that isn’t properly prepared. Couples must learn better ways to communicate, set boundaries, and co-parent to keep a marriage strong after children are involved. After all, a healthy family dynamic starts with a solid foundation of two parents that love each other.
Evaluate Your Marriage
It’s always good to evaluate your marriage before children, but it’s just as important to do “check-ins” once the child arrives. When considering the status of your marriage, there are a few different factors to consider.
How well do you and your partner ask for what you want and need? Evaluating your marriage starts with establishing how healthy your communication style is. Good communication also requires empathy, understanding, and active listening.
The way that you and your spouse work through conflict is also important. For example, if one of you is confrontational while the other is avoidant, you may need to adjust how you approach the conversation.
It’s also not a good sign if conflict tends to become aggressive. If the communication is solid and both people leave the interaction feeling heard and validated, the marriage is likely in good standing.
Intimacy is a core necessity of any healthy marriage. Without intimacy, the marriage is more like a close friendship or a roommate situation. Engaging in sexual intimacy frequently, or however often both people are comfortable, is a great sign that a marriage is doing well. In fact, intimacy in a marriage signals that you move through issues effectively as a couple and can keep that mental space available for romance.
Having shared values is a sign of a strong marriage. Although you don’t necessarily need to share every value equally, it’s best if the values you consider most important are also important to your partner.
For example, if you value altruism but your partner tends to lean more towards selfishness or individualistic ways of thinking, then this is important to understand. This doesn’t make one person wrong and the other person right; it just means that you don’t share that similar value. It’s perfectly fine to be two different people with different opinions and ideas, but considering differences in values can determine how well you work together.
Another great way to evaluate your marriage is to ask yourself if you’re truly happy. Happiness comes in all forms, but overall your marriage should contribute to your happiness and sense of well-being.
Your partner cannot make you feel happy and content 100% of the time, nor is it a realistic expectation. However, if you are a resident of cloud nine in your marriage the majority of the time, this is a very good sign that your spouse generally makes you happy.
Maintaining a marriage is hard work, but it should be rewarding because of how much fun you have with your partner! Are you able to have fun and laugh together? If you were alone in an empty room with nothing to do and no one else there to entertain you, would you be able to easily entertain one other? It should be enjoyable to be married and be in each other’s company.
Feelings vs. Behaviors
When evaluating your overall feelings about your marriage, notice whether you pay more attention to your emotions or your spouse’s actions. For example, you may feel like your spouse isn’t very attentive to your needs, but your spouse’s actions may indicate that they are trying their best to pay attention to you. Maybe it’s the opposite. You feel incredibly physically attracted to your spouse, but their behavior shows that they’re putting minimal effort into the marriage. Which one do you pay attention to and give weight to? Can you separate how you feel about your partner from how you feel about their behaviors? Most importantly, can you relate to each other on an emotional level?
It’s natural for people to grow over time, and when you get married, you are suddenly presented with this beautiful opportunity for you and your spouse to grow and build a life together. In order to grow as a couple, you need to set goals as both individuals and as a couple. You should make sure that your goals align with each other. For example, if you want to buy a house while the other wants to focus on paying off debt, neither of you will get very far if you don’t work together. Evaluating your marriage should include evaluating whether or not you both have a similar growth mindset.
The importance of seeing yourself as an individual and as part of a couple can’t be stressed enough. Do both people in the marriage work towards self-improvement? This is another indicator of how well a marriage is doing. Seeing yourself as a person with a distinct identity while also recognizing that you are part of a unit is dialectical thinking. This means that you can consider multiple truths at once. Losing yourself in a marriage is not a healthy way to live, so you and your partner should work on yourself as individuals.
Is the marriage transactional? Are chores completed with the intention that your spouse will somehow repay you? It’s unhealthy to keep score in a marriage. If you or your spouse are under the impression that you somehow “owe” one another for any reason, you will start to resent each other. Consider your marriage status by thinking about what the other person “owes” you – is it love, kindness, honesty, and non-judgment? Or is it cleaning the toilet and paying for your meal next time? This will indicate if your marriage is based on reciprocity instead of genuine love and appreciation for each other.
Signs that Children are Harming Your Marriage
Now that you’ve evaluated the status of your marriage and perhaps have found some ways to improve, you may notice some of the issues stem from the pressures of parenthood. Below are some common signs that your children are causing damage to your marriage.
1. Your kids are the only topic of conversation between you and your spouse
Remember the importance of having an identity and seeing yourself as part of a family unit and an individual? When your whole life revolves around your kids, you not only lose yourself in the family unit, but you lose yourself in the marriage as well. When all you talk about with your spouse is your kids, it’s clear that you both need to take a step back and make time for yourselves again. Your lives may revolve around your kids, but your identities should not. If you can’t find a single topic of conversation that doesn’t have to do with your family life, it will take a toll on your strength as an individual and the strength of your marriage.
2. Many Arguments Revolve Around the Kids
Many parents find themselves constantly bickering and arguing, especially when it comes to topics involving their children. You may argue about how your spouse takes care of the kids, or which values are taught to them. You may argue about administering punishment and how to go about it, and you may also argue about the division of labor. If you fight much more often than before you had kids, then it’s likely your kids – or rather your disagreements about them – impacting your marriage.
3. No Time for Intimacy
With so little sleep or time for yourselves, it’s no wonder that having kids puts a damper on the bedroom. Waking up constantly throughout the night with a new baby and then having to work or take care of the kids all day doesn’t exactly put you in the mood. Likewise, if you just don’t get any privacy because your kids are old enough to barge whenever they feel like it, you might feel like getting that time alone is impossible. If you and your partner have no time for sex, it harms the marriage because you won’t have the chance to connect on a more intimate level. Not having any room for intimacy in the marriage makes both people feel unfulfilled and undesirable!
4. Schedule Revolves Around Kids
If your schedule revolves around taking the kids to school, cooking them dinner, helping them with their homework, and taking them to soccer practice on weeknights and ballet recitals on weekends, you have zero time for yourself! This means you also don’t have any time for your partner. Of course, the lack of connection can lead to many issues the more time you spend apart.
5. Suffering from Parent Burnout
Parent burnout happens when you’ve been neglecting your own needs for too long, you’re probably suffering from exhaustion. When you suffer from parent burnout, your mind, body, and soul have been drained of all energy. Parent burnout has devastating effects on a person’s well-being and puts a huge strain on a marriage.
6. Poor Boundaries
Poor boundaries certainly have an impact on the marriage. Lack of boundaries may exist between the parent and child dynamic, or simply a lack of boundaries in the marriage when it comes to raising children. For example, when discipline is lax or when one parent does the disciplining more than the other, it is a sign of a disconnect in communication within the marriage. As kids get older, they may use this to their advantage if they recognize that you don’t work together as a team.
7. Spouses Become Parents
Many married couples experience this when they have kids, which is that their identities shift, and they begin to see themselves as parents as opposed to lovers. Communication becomes business-like, and the only real instance when you talk to each other is when you decide whose turn it is to change the diaper or who’s going to take the kids to school. Communication becomes transactional, and you lose sight of the fact that you’re still a married couple. Your focus shifts away from the relationship and each other the more your own identities disappear.
8. Money Comes and Goes
It’s no secret that raising children is a huge expense. When you have to pour time, energy, resources, and money into raising children, you may feel like you simply have nothing left to give. Tensions can build because of financial issues, and you and your spouse cannot go on dates or romantic getaways anymore. Your marriage starts to dissolve because of the stress, pressure, and lack of fun in the relationship.
Tips for Preserving Your Marriage
1. Set Boundaries
Set boundaries with your partner and with yourself! Discuss how to handle issues before they come up, discipline and care for the kids, and how much you’re willing to compromise with your partner. If you’re not both on the same page about raising your kids, you’re going to have major issues down the line.
Make sure you set boundaries around discipline, teaching your children values, getting chores done, and relating to the household routine. It’s also important to set boundaries with other people in your life if necessary. This is especially true if family members and in-laws lack boundaries around seeing your kids and involving themselves in your personal lives. Remember that you need privacy as a couple, and you may need to set appropriate boundaries with various people in your life–including your children.
2. Date Each Other
If you both struggle in your marriage because you never have time for each other anymore, take some time for a date night once a week—no more excuses. You must keep the romance alive. Take turns planning an evening out to dinner or a fun event. You can even have a picnic in the park on a nice day. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
Avoid going to a movie or doing something that doesn’t allow you to talk and connect. Remember why you fell in love. Don’t lose sight of why you wanted to start a family together in the first place. Keep the conversation away from talking about your kids as much as possible, and try to reconnect with who you both are as people on an intimate level. Date night will give you something to look forward to every week and reignite your marriage’s excitement.
3. Spend time away from children/take a break
Every parent deserves frequent breaks from being around their kids. It’s no wonder that so many parents suffer from parent burnout. You and your partner may feel like you need to take on the full responsibility of raising your children. However, that’s not true if you have a community of support.
If you have family or friends around you, ask them to babysit occasionally. Hire a babysitter if you’re able to. When your kids get old enough to make friends in school, consider allowing them to have playdates at friends’ houses. Reaching out in your community will give you a break that you and your partner have been missing. You can choose to spend the time together, or apart if you need a personal recharge.
It’s easy to make children your top priority and neglect everything else, but you must make time for self-care and time for your partner. Reprioritize your schedule so that you have adequate time to give appropriately. Allow yourself to re-energize, renew, and replenish your energy. Self-care might look like taking a hot bubble bath with a glass of wine, or it might look like trying out a kickboxing class. This is your opportunity to get in touch with yourself again and remember what you liked to do before your kids. After all, your kids will appreciate being around you more when you can feel like yourself again. Your spouse will appreciate it too. When you’re both practicing self-care, your marriage will certainly thank you.
5. Encourage Childrens’ Independence
It’s normal to worry about your kids and want to be there to support them as they grow up. However, kids also need space to figure things out on their own. Allowing your kids to become independent may feel scary, especially for first-time parents, but it’s a natural part of growing up. Your job as a parent is to teach your children right from wrong and instill good values. Lean into your children’s confidence to take on the world. You’ll be rewarded with their trust and the opportunity to make more time for your spouse.
Make a Budget
Having kids can throw your finances out of whack. However, you want to be prepared for the worst by having emergency funds. Budgeting is an excellent way to tackle financial issues and avoid unnecessary arguments with your spouse. It’s a good idea to make a budget even if you’re not struggling financially. This will create an extra security net and will have more peace of mind in your marriage.
Parenting is a difficult and often thankless job. The pressure that parents feel is immeasurable. However, becoming a parent doesn’t have to make your life and your marriage miserable. Know that you aren’t alone if you are struggling. Many resources can help you, and your spouse gets through a difficult time.
There is absolutely no shame in seeking help or admitting that you need help navigating the stress of marriage and parenthood. Going to couple’s therapy or family therapy is perfectly normal and healthy and is covered under most insurance plans. Begin by searching online for therapists specializing in marriage and family therapy near you. You can also conduct a quick search for parenting support groups in your area. Doing so can help you get in touch with other parents in similar situations.
Don’t hesitate to seek help because your marriage, your kids, and your future self will thank you for it.