Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 21, 2002
You'll never be the same
Birth of a baby changes couples' lives irrevocably
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Is there life after birth?
The addition of a child changes "you and me" to "we" and a couple will never be the same.
A child alters the dynamics of a couple's relationship, often leading to stress, pressure and creation of negative patterns if not handled properly.
Some couples grow closer; others grow apart.
The Penn State Child and Family Development Project last year found 12 to 13 per cent of all new parents become so divided by differences, they begin to lose faith in each other and in their marriage.
Another 38 per cent of the couples in the study reported a moderate decline in the quality of their marriage. Communication and feelings of love toward their spouse decreased; conflict and feelings of ambivalence increased.
About 30 per cent of the new parents overcame their difficulties, but not enough to gain a new sense of closeness. Only 19 per cent reported improved marriages; that is, increased feelings of love and decreased ambivalence and conflict.
Carrie and Trevor Merrick, 29 and 28 years old respectively, realized the changes their children Joshua, 3, and Kennedy, 1, created in the relationship. "The biggest thing we found is that the time we have to spend alone is limited," Carrie said.
And sometimes she found herself too tired to be attentive to Trevor, a manager with Great-West Life, who, in turn, was too busy in meetings to return calls.
"After taking care of the children all day, I didn't want anything else at night. But Trevor accepted it."
The couple also found that they couldn't frequent the places they used to when they were alone. "Now we have to go to places where children are accepted."
And as Carrie put it, "your conversations turn from talking about each other to talking about the children. It's difficult to give as much attention to your spouse."
The arrival of a child into the marriage leads to "tremendous change," says St. Albert psychologist Carolyn Donnelly. She said the child would affect a couple's sex life, social life, independence and the family structure. The impact will be even greater if the couple is not prepared for the child's arrival.
Donnelly recommends couples develop a conflict resolution strategy to deal with everyday problems, including relationship problems, before they affect the marriage.
The role of the couple changes after a baby is born and they should discuss who will do what before the baby is born, recommends Donnelly. The spouse who stays home should not assume all baby-related responsibilities. They should be shared.
Couples should make conscious efforts to date each other and nurture their relationship, recommends the therapist. It doesn't have to be a vacation, but something they can count on - a movie, a dinner or a simple walk together, with or without the baby.
Chantelle and David Klein, both 30, have been married for nine years and are the parents of two small children, Kyle, four-and-a-half and Devon, three-and-a-half. Although they planned their family and were aware that their lives would change, the Kleins still felt the impact of the arrival of children.
"When the first baby was born, I felt like I was not number one anymore," conceded David. Donnelly said that's often the case, with men tending to feel left out because all the attention is on the child. Some become resentful toward the wife without understanding the difficulties she is facing.
"Many things changed," noted Chantelle, mentioning changes in communication, sleep, finances, career and intimacy.
"Communication between David and me tended to be less because of the lack of time we had for each other due to the children's needs," she said. "Money changed because we were paying for diapers and clothes and all their necessities."
Chantelle was also forced to make a career change. She left her job as a dietary technician at a restaurant when Kyle was born and opened a day home in her Millwoods home a few months later.
But unlike many couples, the Kleins took steps to deal with their problems and today, they say their marriage is even better than before.
When conflicts started arising, they sat down and talked about them, consciously looking for ways to solve their problems. They also talked with other couples going through similar situations and read parenting books together.
They agreed to share the workload at home and to nurture their relationship by spending time alone or with friends. They often leave their children with a babysitter and go out together.
As for the Merricks, Carrie said they understood that children would alter their relationship and have adjusted to the changes and limitations accordingly.
In fact, life is better now that there are children, Carrie said. "You feel more like a family unit and do a lot of things together."
The couple also understands the importance of nurturing their relationship and often makes time to be with each other. "We also do a lot and do a lot of things with friends and leave the children with a babysitter," says Carrie.