Commentary: Is Our Marriage Getting the Attention It Deserves After We Become Parents?

Working our way to a new normal

By Tracey Or | 13 February 2020

Balancing marriage and parenthood is a delicate juggling act. The statistics are hard to ignore.

In 2018, a total of 7,344 marriages ended in a divorce or an annulment in Singapore. The report also revealed that most divorcing Singaporean couples were married 5 to 9 years.

This doesn’t include the rather alarming fact from researchers who have studied how having children affects a marriage for over 30 years. According to Matthew D. Johnson, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory, Binghamton University, State University of New York, there is evidence to show that the relationship between spouses suffer once children come along. In fact, research shows that relationship satisfaction fell more dramatically for couples with children than those without. Now that could certainly paint a troubling picture for those who have vowed: “Till death do us part!”

Navigating a New Normal

Why does marriage satisfaction take a rough and tumble after kids come along? And what can we do to prevent it from hitting the trenches?

How can we create a “new normal” in our vision of happily ever after, after kids enter the scene?

If you’ve been married for some time, it’s really not hard to imagine how a new baby can turn everything topsy turvy. Marriage with children heralds a new style of communication and interaction between couples – whether we are aware of it or not.

I can’t remember the countless times I have mumbled irritably to the husband when he was trying to make out what I was trying to tell him over the cacophony of kiddy wails in the background. Back when we were still newly married, we actually had time to unwind and participate in a decent conversation over a cup of tea; “decent” in my definition means it does not involve the ordering of diapers, who’s going to pick who, and discussing our weekend grocery list.

Making laughter and relational moments the soundtrack of our marriage will ensure we stay connected and in tune with each other.

The reality is, our conversations have shifted. Instead of focusing on relating and being empathetic to our spouses, we are forced to attend to the task-driven concerns of parenting through rather business-like conversations.

While ensuring that we run a tight ship, our energies are often channelled into getting the kids bathed, clothed, fed and having homework done. As such, we are left with little resolve to listen empathetically to the other. Relational questions like “How’s your day?” are now replaced with functional ones like “How should we settle dinner?”

If we pay attention to the nuances and tones within our marital conversations, we can certainly see where improvements can be made. Making laughter and relational moments the soundtrack of our marriage will ensure we stay connected and in tune with each other.

Recognising Shifts in Identity

One of the more challenging stress points is having to grapple with our multiple identities – from wife to mother, husband to father, and more intimately, lovers to parents.

It’s not “just us” anymore when we want to snuggle with our spouse for a hug but having to make room in our beds for equally huggable children. This presents a natural parenting dilemma; we have to get used to incorporating couple moments with family ones and constantly place the well-being of the family over our own. It is even more complex when we have to choose between the multiple roles at different times.

I recall how mind-boggling it was (and still is on some days) wearing different hats throughout the day. Which role should I give my attention to? As a woman, it feels natural to embrace maternal instincts and tend to the immediate needs of my younger children, while leaving my spouse to take care of himself! Yet, how can our marriage thrive without unconditional attentiveness and quality time for romancing the other?

I kept this life-saving piece of advice at the back of my mind: Don't put your marriage on hold while you're raising your kids or else you'll end up with an empty nest and an empty marriage.

Recognising Shifts in How We Spend Time

Being available for each other as a married couple is exceptionally tricky especially when we are depleted after a day’s work or caring for our children.

When our kids were younger, the idea of date nights and couple vacations remained just that – an idea. We found we had to change our usual habits and routines as a couple; it was goodbye, movie dates, and hello, playground romps and child-friendly cafes.

Nevertheless, we learnt to embrace that change. I think doing so helped propel our relationship forward to the next phase as a married couple. We purposed to create new memories and new habits together as a family.

One of the most beautiful things that we did was deciding that we were better off bringing our young children along to celebrate our wedding anniversary than scrambling to find suitable babysitting options.

Instead of mourning the loss of exclusive anniversary celebrations, we took our little “lamp-posts” who were excited to be part of mummy and daddy’s special evening. The children rose to the occasion as we shared the significance of the event and demonstrated how much we cared for our marriage. The bonus? As they are now older, our children understand when we need couple time and happily give us their blessings!

Don't put your marriage on hold while you're raising your kids or else you'll end up with an empty nest and an empty marriage.

Instead of thinking that having kids will definitely throw a marriage off track, children can in fact be our biggest supporters and encouragers if we take time to share with them the importance of having couple time.

Children do not get in the way of a happy marriage if we go out of the way to make our couple goals the main focus. This is something I’ve witnessed in my own life, and I’m glad that we involved our kids to share in our journey of love.

Tracey Or is a full time mother of six, part-time dreamer and writer at her blog, Memoirs of a Budget Mum. Those who know her well knows she gets through life with a good joke, coffee and the occasional Netflix.

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