Marriage Problems, Part 3: Here Come the Kids
Throwing kids into the marriage mix can change the dynamics of a marriage. With such a joyful game changer also comes enormous challenges.
There is nothing like the joy of having children.
When you have a child, an indescribable love for this new little person explodes into existence. First smiles, coos, laughs and steps excite a new parent like nothing else. And as children grow, it’s so much fun to see how their little minds work, what their interests are, how their personalities develop and the way they interact with different people.
Having a child allows parents to relive childhood. Want to have a dance party? Sure, let’s go for it! Watercolor, Play-Doh, baby dolls, Tonka trucks, building blocks, forts, hide-and-seek become daily activities together. If a sibling joins the family, another fun and fulfilling member is added to the mix.
Parenting is such a rewarding and beneficial experience, and our hearts truly ache with those married couples who desire children but have been unable to have them or who have experienced loss. We empathize that some of the challenges discussed in this post may be what some couples long for and pray to experience. The gift of parenthood should not be taken for granted.
Looking back, we realize we were completely unaware that the wonderful blessings of having children would be accompanied by some of the most challenging and stressful times in our 14-year marriage.
We have the feeling we are not the only ones.
1. Say good-bye to time together and sleep; say hello to stress they don’t dare tell you about in the books.
Positive communication and respectful interaction can become challenging when you’re getting little or poor-quality sleep. And the conversations that do occur are often stressful talks about child-rearing strategies—with both people bringing diverging ideas to the table based on how they were raised. This can be compounded tenfold when a child has a disability or health issue, making reality completely different from expectations about what having a child would be like.
Many marriages break apart during the parenthood phase because a husband and wife don’t make a way to prioritize and strengthen their relationship.
The married couples we surveyed gave the following examples of significant marital problems they experienced when they became parents:
- “Opinions on child-rearing methods (e.g., using a pacifier or rocking baby to sleep).”
- “Having less time together as a couple.”
- “Feeling like your spouse just doesn’t understand the load you’re carrying and is not willing to give of himself or herself as much as you need in order to help and support you.”
- “Discipline styles.”
Action steps: Some solutions our respondents found helpful included talking out a game plan and expectations ahead of time, making a family schedule and working together to share the load whenever possible.
We often jokingly wonder what we did with all our time before having children. Now it seems like nearly every waking hour (and every “waking up in the middle of the night” hour) is taken by these precious little lives in our home. This can make it difficult to prioritize the husband-and-wife relationship as the most important. But making sure you both do this is essential. The methods of prioritizing the relationship will probably be different from what they were before children, but a husband and wife must find a way to do it—for their own sakes and for the sake of their children!
Here are some ways couples can do this:
- Greeting each other with hugs and kisses rather than a nod of acknowledgment.
- Having a home dinner date while the children are asleep.
- Saving some time before going to bed to chat about the day.
- Sending special notes, texts or emails during the day.
These are just a few ways new parents can focus on strengthening their relationship in the midst of parenthood.
Sadly, many marriages break apart during the parenthood phase because a husband and wife don’t make a way to prioritize and strengthen their relationship. One of the reasons God hates divorce is the violence (physical, verbal or mental) that often accompanies it (Malachi 2:16). Many adverse childhood experiences are the result of marriage problems between the parents.
2. “Let me tell you how many children you should have” (society or hopeful grandparents).
Societal and familial expectations sometimes take precedence over common sense and logic. One survey respondent said: “Children in and of themselves do not make a marriage stronger. Unless there is a good foundation before the children, it is very easy for the kids to crumble a less-than-strong relationship.”
Having a child is one of the most important decisions a couple will make—and that decision shouldn’t be taken lightly or left to chance.Children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3-5). He instructed humanity to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28; 9:1). But husbands and wives should still be wise and thoughtful in planning how many children to have. So many sins in society today (from abortion to abuse and neglect) come from having children irresponsibly. Having a child is one of the most important decisions a couple will make—and that decision shouldn’t be taken lightly or left to chance.
Another survey respondent shared this insight: “Disagreements on how to raise kids, lack of sleep and increased stress magnify [already existing] problems.” If severe marital problems exist, it is wise to address those challenges before adding children (or another child).
Action steps: When it comes to having children, do what is right for your family—not what others say is best. A lot of well-meaning people may be pressuring you to have children before you feel ready. Don’t make such a monumental decision based on pressure from others. Kids are to be a blessing and loved with all our hearts, and they deserve to be brought into the best home environment possible.
3. I’ll trade you intimacy and dinner dates for potty training and nonstop whining?
Long conversations and continually getting to know each other (“dating” your spouse) can be replaced by long conversations about what kind of parents we are and all the horrific things that “could” befall our children.
If we allow it, it’s possible for the beautiful gift of physical intimacy God intended for married couples to share (Song of Solomon 8:3-4, 6-7) to become rushed, clumsy and pretty rare because of all the dynamics of having kids (screaming, pooping, whining, throwing up, etc.). All these things can disrupt many a tender moment. Going out to dinner or a movie can give way to a lockdown situation of never leaving the house unless absolutely necessary, because now you have 10 more things to bring, haven’t slept or showered, and know what your kids get like when they are [fill-in-the-blank].
Of course, it is inevitable that life will change once children enter the picture. We feel it is worth the trade-off, as we believe most parents do. But we don’t ignore the stress and problems that can result from this trade-off. The saying “the days are long, but the years are short” rings true here. In the midst of parenting fun, another recurring gag we say to each other is, “It’s a good thing they are so cute.”
Action steps: Each stage of our children’s lives will bring stresses and trade-offs in our marriages. But it is our job to do the right thing and work together to allow the challenges of parenthood to strengthen the marriage and family unit. We love being parents, but we understand the sacrifice to our marriage that is necessary for being decent parents. (We are working up to “good” from “decent.”)
It’s important to always keep in mind that specific struggles and challenges will pass as our children grow and enter new stages of life. But we must temper that with realizing that every coming stage will have its own set of challenges.
Your marriage can positively affect your children’s lives. Seeing each other grow as a parent and show love toward your children should strengthen your marriage bond. As you grow in love for your children, your love for each other should naturally grow.
Try considering this together: “This problem we are facing with this child won’t last forever, but the way we are arguing about it might. We can only change one of these things now.”
Or try: “Are we really upset because of our kids? Or are we upset because they are showing us the weaknesses we still need to address and overcome in our marriage?”
The bottom line
Becoming a parent adds a special dimension to marriage. But approaching this stage of married life with “eyes wide open” to the challenges, limitations and sacrifices is crucial to the marriage coming out stronger on the other side.
As we’ll see in the next post, our children are not responsible for the stresses and challenges brought on by ongoing problems not resolved in marriage. Yet they can definitely make them all seem that much more overwhelming. We think about this every time we are trying to finish a discussion about something important to us (or when we are trying to finish another post in this marriage blog series) and hear the little voices of our precious children interrupting or whining.