THE IMPERATIVE OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE AFTER THE ADDITION OF CHILDREN Written by: Linda Riley, LMFT
The Bible tells us that children are a gift and a blessing. Research tells us that marriage has many positive effects on children, but are children handicapped by a weak marriage? Among other advantages, children who live with happily married parents are:
1. Less likely to be seriously abused
2. Less likely to end up breaking the law or going to jail
3. Less likely to be depressed or have other mental problems
4. More likely to stay in school and do better academically
5. Less likely to have developmental and/or behavioral problems
6. Less likely to use drugs and be sexually active
People are essentially lonely and can feel very isolated in modern life without the refuge of marriage and family. Family provides a haven from loneliness wherein we can feel accepted, loved and valued. Intimate relationships are built on the security of these feelings and when marriages don’t function properly they compromise the family’s ability to provide children with the acceptance, love and self worth that will determine their own capacity for intimacy. We first experience intimacy within our family and from this arena learn how to achieve intimacy in all our relationships. Though children may burden marriage and redefine the relationship, it is imperative that couples prioritize their intimacy in the interest of not only themselves but also the children. When we add children to a marriage, we cannot neglect ourselves, our spouses, our children or our marriages. How do we manage to focus on all of it with the right balance? Maybe the most important ingredient is flexibility, a willingness to keep changing and evolving.
The birth of a child can cause a marital crisis; a baby changes the roles and responsibilities of both husband and wife. A child alters a couple’s daily schedules, goals, finances, social life and even their sex life. A significant number of couples report a decline in marital satisfaction following the birth of the first child. But, it is important to remember that marriages are supposed to change as we go through life transitions. Recognizing that it is normal for a child to change their relationship helps couples cope with the transition better. Marriages, like all relationships, are never stagnant; their dynamic constantly shifts in response to myriad internal and external circumstances. The status of a relationship is always in flux and a successful couple must constantly adjust to and monitor these changes. Children are only one of the many factors that force a marriage to adjust. In our efforts to meet our children and partners’ needs, we grow and stretch towards God’s plan of sanctification. In this way, our marriages and families facilitate our compassion and help breakdown our self-centeredness.
The Arabic poet philosopher Kahlil Gibran speaks about pain and joy flowing from the same source to explain how those we love can hurt us the most. The experience of marriage can at times be painful; it can cause us to feel anxious, fearful, insecure, angry and frustrated. Marriage is hard work. But, if we remain committed as we go through its transitions, we build a deeper and stronger relationship and are rewarded by the fulfillment our effort brings. Marriages are partnerships and rely on our ability to show our partner that he or she is the most valued person in our life. Most of life’s pain results from not having been loved well and therefore not being able to love others well either. Scripture clearly states that love is the most important calling we have as Christians.
As a marriage counselor, I believe our marital struggles reflect lessons about love and dating that our families of origin failed to teach us, and so began long before our marriage commitment. Thanks to the pain experienced by our early mistakes and failures, we often harbor a tremendous fear of vulnerability that inhibits our ability to be emotionally intimate. In our culture, we more readily attempt sexual intimacy, jumping into bed for connection instead of revealing and sharing our characters with one another and achieving emotional intimacy. Often we miss the connection between emotional and sexual intimacy because the model of our family of origin didn’t teach us one existed. This is further complicated by modern dating practices, which frequently disconnect emotions from sexuality, protecting us from vulnerability at the cost of relationship fulfillment. The common practice is to “try on” partners only to discard them if and when our tastes change or in pursuit of someone “better”.
It is vital to their future relationships that children in Christian homes see a different approach to life, love and marriage. They need to witness strong commitment, the persistence through difficult times and life transitions, unselfish love and parents who are both emotionally and sexually intimate with one another. Although it is more challenging to create this kind of marriage after the birth of children, we must rise to the challenge because future relationships are modeled on those of the past. As our understanding of intimacy relates to our childhood model, our children’s ability to foster successful relationships in their futures depend on the precedents we set at home right now.
Married partners may well experience a temporary loss of intimacy with the addition of children and the necessary redirection of energies from one another to the new baby. This initial imbalance is normal; we only need to anticipate and recognize the changing relationship in order to reestablish intimacy on these new terms. Communication is essential in all intimate relationships. We need to make sure we are setting aside time for talking and listening to maintain an understanding of our partners’ intrapersonal lives. It is also crucial to make opportunities for alone time as well as couple time. Maintenance of your marriage not only ensures continued fulfillment for you and your spouse, but also provides your children with the framework for their future happiness. The recognition that a strong marriage is the most solid foundation a child can grow from helps couples prioritize their marriage. An atmosphere at home of acceptance, value and unconditional love gives children the sense of security and stability that enables them to develop positive identities and fulfilling relationships of their own.
Written by: Linda Riley, A Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Sex Counselor who has counseled family's and couples for over 22 years. Her focus has been with enriching relationships and understanding relationship dynamics. Promoting personal growth and building healthy self-concepts to help her clients achieve maximum results in their personal and professional lives. For additional free resources and articles please visit www.LifeWorksGroup.org or 407-647-7005.