Most studies show that marital satisfaction declines after childbirth. According to research by John Gottman, psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Washington, 67 percent of couples see a worsening in their relationship once their newborn arrives.
The trend is so pervasive, most couples just assume that it is inevitable and accept it. But following decades of research, Gottman is not so sure. He and his wife, Julie, have been studying examples of happily married couples who do not see declines in marital satisfaction after having children over the last twenty years. They’ve discovered that certain relationship traits protect couples, even after kids enter the picture.
Gottman says that resolving marital hostility post-childbirth is critical. Poor relations between new parents affect the baby and can increase the likelihood they will develop conduct disorder and depression in the future.
How to keep marriages healthy post-baby
To find out what generates marital bliss, the Gottmans drew lessons from the one-third of couples who remain content with life following childbirth. They discovered that the main issue was – you guessed it – communication. Lack of comprehension and empathy for the other partner’s needs typically takes a nose-dive following the baby’s arrival, leading to all manner of marital issues.
Following their research, the Gottmans developed a two-day program designed to help couples communicate with each other better. A randomized controlled trial (the best scientific methodology available) exploring the benefits of their approach showed that when couples engage in training and talk-therapy pre-baby, they are much more likely to remain happy once it arrives. What’s more, fathers in the group that received the intervention had greater involvement in their baby’s life at the three-month follow-up.
To achieve these remarkable results, the Gottmans based their training around the Sound Relationship House theory. This posits that three factors determine marital satisfaction:
- Shared meaning
- Constructive conflict
- Friendship and intimacy
To strengthen shared meaning, the Gottmans believe that couples should engage in “connection rituals.” These need to be regular activities that both couples enjoy, such as going out for dinner or playing a family game. The idea, according to the Gottmans, is to engender a sense of enjoyment and purpose every day.
The Gottmans also recommend that couples share in each other’s life goals. For instance, the partner might assist the other partner in growing a business or helping in a dream project.
Successful couples brainstorm with each other to generate ideas on how they will help the other achieve their goals. This process, in turn, creates trust and ensures that neither party feels left out.
The Gottmans see fighting as inevitable in relationships. However, they believe that there are good and bad ways to manage it.
During their research, the Gottmans found that happily married couples used a variety of conflict resolution techniques that most did not.
One technique was to find ways of gently introducing conflict. Instead of saying, “you never do the dishes – you are so lazy,” they say “I feel sad that you didn’t do the washing up.”
The Gottmans also found that changing the nature of the statement from attacking the other person to describing how the individual feels reduces conflict. In their view, saying “you are cheating with me with your colleague at work” is not as good as “I feel insecure that you spend many hours at the office late at night.”
Despite these techniques, the Gottmans accept that arguments can get heated at times. There is a physiological response to conflict, such as increase in stress hormones and blood pressure, that can be difficult to contain.
When this happens, they recommend that people take time out to soothe themselves – 20 to 30 minutes or so – before resuming the argument. It is much harder to resolve conflict when the body is in a state of chaos.
Friendship and intimacy
Lastly, the Gottmans believe in the power of friendship and intimacy – taking the time to engage in each other’s shared interests, passions and goals.
To achieve satisfaction on this front, the Gottmans recommend that couples ask each other open questions about what they would like to achieve in their future. These questions, they say, help to deepen their understanding of the other and, therefore, intimacy.
Couples don’t have to stop asking “what would you like to achieve in the future?” even if they have been married for many years. It works just as well after one year of marriage as it does after twenty-five.
Help for your post-baby relationship in Lakewood & Longmont Colorado
Most marriages experience a satisfaction decline following the birth of the first baby. However, it doesn’t have to happen with you. Our counseling staff can help you put the right relationship strategies in place, so you can continue to experience shared happiness. We invite you to call us at 720-551-4553 for a free 20-minute phone consultation with a marriage specialist. You can schedule your appointment via phone, email, or the contact page on our website. We offer both in-person and online anxiety counseling. We’re open to whichever option you feel more comfortable with. We look forward to hearing from you!