Friday, July 29, 2016

Marriage is not for babies

Here are some swans whose cygnets are
with a sitter right now so they
discuss feelings without examples.
A while back, I met my daughter for dinner in Boston. On the street outside, a late-twenties couple met and after a nice embrace and a kiss, entered the restaurant. They'd been apart. They never stopped talking. They never took their eyes off each other. They never stopped touching.

Anyone would know from the look of them that they were probably never not like this.

A couple of weeks later, in line at a cafe, I spotted a couple that we used to see socially back when we all had teenagers and socialized with anyone who didn't answer questions with "What are you talking about."

That's not really true.

Yes it is. 

They sat in a corner these two, oblivious to the surroundings. She talked seriously about something, and he listened actively. Anyone would know from the look of them that they have never not been like this.

Recently, an article written by Matthew Johnson, professor of psychology at Binghamton University appeared in the Washington Post called, "Why having children is bad for your marriage." 

I can only imagine how many people clicked on that link.

The assertions were as gloomy as you'd expect.

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes relationship malaise and a "fixer" baby to help pull things together, in the baby carriage. Couples become less happy with each other and less happy in general.

Things further devolve, wrote Johnson, as communication gets patchy and fatigue makes us less interested in everything, including each other.  Our parent selves strangle the free and youthful spirit that drew us to each other and intimacy waits for later which doesn't come. The one who stays home feels isolated. The one who comes home feels insignificant, and so on.

The good news? When the kids leave, you're free to go. Reported Johnson, "...the successful launch of the children leads spouses to discover they have few shared interests and there’s nothing keeping them together."

And there you have it. Go ahead, have a baby. When you're done, just bite the head off your mate because you're finished.

For sure, I  have known couples whose over-parenting has changed them into people with only parenting in common. I've known others who viewed the empty nest with dread. And, of course, there are couples who never really had anything going in that was worth getting back. 

But there are swans, too. 

Our babies began arriving less than ten months after we married and didn't stop arriving until eight years later. I could have been the woman I spotted recently with a license plate that didn't read "3GIRLZ," or, "4BOYZ" but "4YNOTS."

We relocated six times in those first six years, with each of my consultant-husband's new assignments. We missed everyone, but we also liked that no one knew us as well as we knew each other while we were figuring stuff out. We didn't argue about who worked harder, we both did. 

At the core of things, we'd become, together, the most important people we'd ever been and shared the most important experience ever to grace our lives. It changed us forever. 

But challenges come and ours came later with a permanent move back home. Now my husband traveled while I managed the little ones and made new go-to mother-friends. Now, it was in late calls at night that we connected, too tired to comb through the details of a day, but not wanting to hang up. Now, it was only hours each week that we had to shore up that core of things where intuition lives and tells you what to blow off, what to say instead, how to gauge the climate, and how to tell tired from tired of .  

I needed to articulate this disorientation, this stone-in-my-shoe over the million, tiny things we now experienced apart, and the worry that we might next become people who knew each other less than others did. 

And here, in my opinion, is a point in any relationship that should be circled like an important date on the calendar. 

Here is where it's easy to mistake critical symptoms of transition for a bad mood, or phase, or "something hormonal" and blow it off, because you don't want to be needy even though you are for good reason.

Here is when many swans stop making those hearts with their necks  and start spending more time with their cygnets because the cygnets are easier to figure out.

Articulate I did, but because I am about feelings, and he is about observations, it probably went something like this:

Me:   I don't know, it's just a feeling. Something's different.
Him: Well, can you give me an example?
Me:   No, and why don't you have the same feeling?
Him: What feeling?

Me:   See?  

We gave our marriage its own room in the family house.

One didn't attempt a serious conversation while the other was helping a child find his shoes.  We hired sitters and made time for those feelings-without-examples conversations. In those early years, we ate dinner together after the kids were fed, a thing that wouldn't work for many in today's parenting culture, but which saved us later, when the babies became teenagers and we faced a whole other blog post of challenges to our core.

I don't think a troubled marriage is the certain result of having a baby, many marriages are troubled with or without children. 

But with a relationship at the core worth defending, and an understanding that marriage is not the most resilient of the relationships that form when babies come, but the most vulnerable one, I think the swan potential is higher. 

Maybe Dr. Johnson will visit a bigger pond next time, and ask to see them, the swans. 


  1. I think kids either make it or break my case, it was so broken it could not be fixed. Marriage is hard and kids make it harder. Good post!

    1. I agree. There are a lot of "selves" at work to keep so many relationships thriving. Worth it to find a way if it's possible, but sometimes just not in the cards for the best of people.

  2. My husband and I have been happily married for 26 years. The first six were child-free. My life and observations tell me that marriages that fail after children have come along would have failed for some other reason. Marriage is hard work and it is not work that everyone is qualified to do. There is no shame in that.

    1. Shame, combined with determination to see even a bad decision through, cause many people to linger, which of course, is worse for the marriage than anything. A post for another day. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Marriage IS tough. Children can be a wonderful addition, but they're not a fix for sure.

  4. Marriage IS tough. Children can be a wonderful addition, but they're not a fix for sure.

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