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Couple's Net

By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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Kids and Marital Satisfaction

Uploaded: Aug 12, 2014
"More than a hundred studies show that marital satisfaction falls off a cliff after the birth of the first child and doesn't get much better until the last child leaves for college," writes John Gartner, Ph.D in 'Child.ol'.a.try' in Psychology Today. Yikes!

The reasons are fairly evident:
1. The focus changing from being a couple to being a family – if you're lucky – or the focus going almost exclusively to the kids, if you're not lucky
2. Time issues
3. Resources stretched
4. Biology drives new mothers to focus on baby while Dad is left out; that can become habitual.

I knew someone years ago that said his wife "Went from being a babe to having a babe." Another person told me that kids bring you joy but not happiness.

Since many of us want kids, what can we do to mitigate the pitfalls and maximize the joy?

Minimize these behaviors:
1. Spending most of your time as a family
2. Hovering or helicopter parenting (this does not actually teach kids to be resilient)
3. Parental focus on kid(s) and little focus on the couple unit. In psychobabble we call this triangulation: you don't join as a couple and you both focus on your children (when they're young, they give a lot of love back, whereas you might need to work on your couple relationship. It's becomes easier to give up on your spouse and get love from your kids.)

Maximize these behaviors:
1. Scheduling and actually going on weekly dates as a couple
2. Going away for weekends without your kids
3. Taking vacations without your kids (yes, they will survive)
4. Making "quiet time" at home where your kids don't interrupt your couple time
5. Keeping your sex life active (get your kids out of your bedroom)

Please read Child.ol'.a.try for the sake of your marriage and to actually help your kids. If you are happier, they will be, too.


Comments

Posted by John94306, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 16, 2014 at 11:59 pm

John94306 is a registered user.

Agreed! One of the best books my wife and I read was "Babyproofing Your Marriage". Similar message.

We make sure that our marriage is at least as high priority as our kids.
This means fewer kids activities - they'll live. They already do plenty.
After all, I'm planning to live with her longer than I'll live with my kids.
We feel that it's important to never stop dating each other.




Posted by Rakhi, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 17, 2014 at 9:44 pm

Good article on kids and marital satisfaction (Web Link)


Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Aug 18, 2014 at 8:53 am

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

John, Thanks for the book suggestion. Great point, that you will live with her for many years longer than your kids. Also, I hear from kids that doing less would be fine with them.


Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Aug 18, 2014 at 8:54 am

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

Thanks, Rakhi, for your kind words.


Posted by RW, a resident of another community,
on Aug 18, 2014 at 9:37 am

My husband of 5 years and I don't plan on having kids-and the above (among many others) is one of the reasons.

However, my close friend with 2 kids knows that she can call on me whenever she needs a babysitter. I know how important couple time is so I love doing this for her. I'm watching them for an upcoming weekend so the couple can go away to a wedding in Tahoe. I love children, but don't plan on having any of my own.


Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Aug 18, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

RW, Sounds like you and your husband have thought this through. How wonderful for you, your friend and her husband, plus her kids to have you in their lives. Everyone wins. You get be be a special adult in the kids' lives that are not their parents, and you get kid-time, too. Great arrangement for all.


Posted by Hermia, a resident of Triple El,
on Aug 19, 2014 at 12:47 pm

If you really maximize the behaviors on the maximize list you will have no life as a family at all.
You won't maximize the joy, you'll skip it.

I was horrified as a young parent by the many other parents around me who handed their kids off to nannies, to daycare, to school, to after school care, to after school cram school, shut them up in their rooms to do homework alone till dinner, which they then ate with the babysitter while parents went to their evening yoga classes, having as close to zero contact with those kids as possible.

There are a lot of different families in this world, with a lot of different styles. This prescriptivist advice strikes me as spot on for *one* model of imbalance, but also as perfect justification for another equally unhappy model.

Why assume that everyone who reads this is a classic helicopter parent with no romantic life? Why not frame it as a happy medium?



Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Aug 19, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

Hermia,

I am not advocating the black and white imbalance version of family life that you describe seeing around you when you were a young parent. See John's comment above; they prioritize their marriage at least as high as they prioritize their kids. I am not advocating putting the kids away for hours at a time, or not spending any time with them. Of course we would miss out on the joy.

I am advocating that it is okay to have 30 min. to an hour of adult time. Yes, I am advocating that kids don't need us every minute (except when very young). I am advocating that kids can play with each other and neighbor kids. Yes, every family is different, and each can plan as they wish.

Of course I see many couples who have focused on the kids and not on each other for so long they don't know what to talk about on a date (if they even go on dates). What will happen when their nest is empty? These couples have slowly but surely been heading in different trajectories (think railroad tracks beginning at a point and slowly veering apart).

By all means, love and enjoy and revel in your kids. Also do so with your beloved.

Staying on track as a couple gives your kids the best chance for a happy family.


Posted by Hermia, a resident of Triple El,
on Aug 20, 2014 at 9:48 am

I guess I lost sight of the fact that you're a couples counselor, and of course your clients will be people who are focused on the stresses in their relationship as a couple.

The ones who really suffer from the other extreme are the children, and they'll be seeing individual psychotherapists to cope, later.

I didn't so much mistake your intention as wish to register an objection to what feels like a universal "down" on parenting with attention. The very expression "helicopter parent" exists only to shame a generation that is responding to having been neglected (benignly or not) by trying to be genuinely engaged with their own kids' growing up. I'm not anti-date-night at all, and having breakfast together at leisure every weekday after the kids were off to school, for example, was a great strength in my own marriage. Building in time together so it's not something you visit, but how you live, is very important. I'm just pro-balance.

Thanks for your thoughtful response, above.


Posted by Mother of 4 , a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Aug 20, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Don't regularly read this blog but since it seemed to be on the subject of kids I thought I would give it a go.

Please don't judge the couple in the restaurant who appear to have nothing to say to each other. We have been there, done that and it could well be a completely different situation to what it appears.

The luxury of a date night to celebrate a birthday or anniversary is often so much hassle that we have all but given up. The cost of a babysitter if we can get one, husband getting away from work early enough to make it possible and then having to deal with commute hour traffic, getting dinner for the kids while I am trying to make myself clean and presentable and having to deal with a toddler covered in spaghetti sauce wanting to give me a hug goodbye, hoping that the babysitter manages to bath them even though she hopes to get homework done, eating dinner while hoping that the service will be good enough for us hopefully to have time for dessert before having to get home to the babysitter who won't sit beyond 10.00 pm on a school night, and hoping that we don't get a text from said babysitter or one of the kids that needs to be answered, doesn't bide well for good conversation since we have agreed not to talk about anything kid related. Then of course when we do get home, the kitchen is still left with dinner things strewn about while I am the one who has to give the babysitter a ride home since we have decided on a policy whereby husband doesn't give teenage babysitters a ride home in case of the unlikely but still real possibility that a disgruntled girl may accuse him of doing something improper. And grand parents babysitting is not much better.

No, we have basically given up on trying to have a date night with just the two of us. Rather we celebrate now after the kids have gone to bed and the house is quiet. We turn down the lights, turn off the technology except some quiet mood music, get out a great bottle of wine (which we can drink without worrying who is driving home), some cheese and dessert, and play a board game of something like Scrabble, where we can laugh at each other's vain attempts to cheat by using our own spellings of family in words and enjoy a much more pleasant evening without the stress of trying to get out.

As I said above, that couple in the restaurant with nothing to say used to be us. Now we stay in and enjoy each other's company knowing that we can be assured that our kids will get the best possible care if the situation warrants it.


Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Aug 20, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Hermia. You are right that the other extreme is neglected kids, and that is a serious problem, too. 'Parenting with attention' is or can be different than helicopter parenting. I like to look at things as being on a spectrum, and helping couples, parents to find the grey areas and experiment there to find balance. Each couple will find their way. I love that you say that building in time for each other is a way of life.


Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Aug 20, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

Motherof4, Thanks for your description of attempted date nights. What a good solution you have come up with. Sounds like lovely, and loving couple time you have created for your marriage. I hope you have many such evenings.


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