May 20, 2024 |Gideon Hanekom

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For many couples, starting a family and having children is a dream come true. The common perception is that children bring joy, love, and a deeper sense of fulfilment to a marriage. It’s a fairy tale we’ve all heard before—the happy couple, surrounded by their adorable children, living a life of marital bliss.

But is that really the case?

Research findings in recent years have begun to shed light on the complex relationship between children and marital satisfaction, and the results may surprise you.

The notion that children enhance marital happiness is deeply ingrained in our society.

marital bliss

From the moment a couple announces they’re expecting, they’re bombarded with messages about the joys of parenthood.

Friends and family members share stories of how their children have brought them closer together, and media portrayals often depict families as the ultimate symbol of happiness.

It’s no wonder that so many couples believe that having children will be the key to a blissful marriage.

But is all that really true?

Research Findings

In short, studies have begun to challenge this long-held belief.

For example, researchers from the University of Denver and Texas A&M have conducted extensive studies on 218 couples on the impact of children on marital satisfaction, and their findings paint a vastly different picture.

While having children can certainly bring immense joy and fulfilment, it can also put a significant strain on a couple’s relationship.

The demands of parenthood, from sleepless nights to financial pressures, can take a toll on even the strongest of marriages.

For example, one study revealed that 90% of couples experienced a decrease in marital bliss or satisfaction after the birth of their first child, and this trend continued with each subsequent child.

But the critical question then becomes, why? And what can we do about it?

Factors Influencing Marital Bliss

As we’ve stated, while it’s a common belief that having children brings immense joy and strengthens the bond between couples, studies have started shedding light on the complex factors that influence marital satisfaction after starting a family.

Like the previous example, The International Survey on Marital Satisfaction (2021), which surveyed 7178 married individuals from 33 countries, also revealed that having more children generally leads to decreased marital satisfaction.

Additionally, as the number of children increases, couples tend to report lower levels of happiness in their marriage.

This trend is particularly noticeable among couples with three or more children, who experience a more substantial decline in marital satisfaction compared to those with one or two children.

That is a scary statistic, but quite a few parents would probably attest to it if you can get them to be honest.

Now, what the research also suggests is that various factors, such as gender, education, and religiosity, can play a crucial role in moderating the impact of children on marital satisfaction.

For instance, the impact of children on marital happiness tends to be more pronounced for women compared to men.

This gender disparity is particularly evident among highly educated women, who often experience a greater decline in marital satisfaction as the number of children increases.

marital bliss

On the other hand, religiosity seems to have a buffering effect on the negative impact of children on marital happiness.

Also, couples who report higher levels of religious involvement and commitment tend to experience a less severe decline in marital satisfaction, even with a larger number of children.

Economic status also seems to play a significant role, with couples having higher economic status reporting better marital satisfaction, possibly due to better resources and support systems.

However, irrespective of these moderating factors, the stressors of parenthood can still significantly elevate stress levels in a marriage, further influencing marital satisfaction.

Stressors of Parenthood

Financial strain is often one of the first stressors to emerge when couples transition to parenthood.

The cost of raising a child includes expenses for healthcare, education, clothing, and daily necessities, which can place considerable pressure on a family’s budget.

Another major stressor is sleep deprivation.

New parents frequently experience disrupted sleep patterns due to the needs of their newborns, which can lead to chronic sleep deprivation.

This lack of rest can diminish patience and increase irritability, making it more challenging for couples to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts amicably.

Balancing work and family life is yet another significant source of stress.

Parents must often balance their professional responsibilities with the demands of raising children, which can lead to feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion.

Communication Breakdown and Exhaustion

However, apart from those stressors, parenting also requires constant collaboration, especially in the early days of a first child, and the pressures of raising a child can exacerbate existing communication issues or create new ones.

When partners are not aligned in their parenting styles or expectations, it can lead to frequent misunderstandings and conflicts.

Differing parental roles and expectations can become common sources of friction.

For instance, one partner might have a more authoritarian approach to discipline, while the other prefers a more lenient, nurturing style. Such fundamental differences can cause heated debates and leave each partner feeling unsupported or misunderstood.

Additionally, household responsibilities often become a contentious issue.

The division of chores and child-rearing tasks may not always seem equitable, leading to additional feelings of resentment and frustration.

Exhaustion, both physical and emotional, also plays a significant role in marital satisfaction.

marital bliss

The constant attention, care, and nurturing required to meet a child’s needs can lead to profound exhaustion.

For instance, physical exhaustion from sleepless nights, early mornings, and continuous physical demands can suppress libido, making it challenging to maintain a healthy sexual relationship.

Conversely, emotional exhaustion also arises from the relentless cycle of attending to a child’s needs, managing household responsibilities, and maintaining work commitments.

This, in turn, can lead to feelings of overwhelm, irritability, and even resentment towards one another.

All in all, bringing kids into the mix can profoundly impact your relationship dynamics in ways you cannot foresee, no matter how many books you read or dogs you’ve owned.

Conclusion: Prioritizing Marital Health Before and After Kids

So, what is the takeaway here?

Well, the data suggest that the impact of children on marital satisfaction is a complex issue influenced by many factors.

Children undoubtedly bring immense joy, fulfilment, and a new dimension to life.

However, it is also crucial to recognize that they are not a panacea for existing marital problems.

Underlying issues within a marriage need to be addressed proactively and independently of the decision to have children because they will only exacerbate the issues that are already there.

Consequently, prioritizing marital health becomes your first priority because that’s the foundation of it all.

But, importantly, maintaining a healthy relationship after having children requires continuous effort. It never ends.

Thus, partners should make time for each other, nurture their bond, and ensure that their relationship remains a priority.

This not only benefits the couple but also creates a stable and loving environment for their children to thrive in.

Ultimately, a strong and healthy marriage serves as the cornerstone of a happy family life.

Moreover, by recognizing that children are not a solution to marital issues and focusing on nurturing their relationship, couples can build a supportive and fulfilling family environment for themselves and their children

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as and The Good Men Project.

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