In short, no
Having a baby to rescue a marriage or relationship is not a new idea. As depicted in movies, books, and in reality many couples who feel their relationship is dwindling have a child in order to reconnect. However, studies show that bringing a child into an already rocky relationship will only further deteriorate relationship satisfaction (1). In their study, Leonhardt et al studied couples in relationships through 20 week pregnancy until 12 months postpartum and assessed their overall relationship satisfaction as well as their commitment to the relationship. The researchers found that a relationship that is rocky during the pregnancy will more likely decline in relationship satisfaction after the child is born for both partners. However, they also found that relationship commitment, in both partners, stayed the same or generally increased. This could be promising for couples who want to have children in order to reconnect because their commitment to each other and their relationship will be strengthened with the addition of a child.
Another study by Kuile et al demonstrates that individual happiness and relationship satisfaction during the pregnancy will dictate the satisfaction post childbirth. Their study concludes that couples who are happy and satisfied when pregnant will most likely be satisfied throughout their transition to parenthood while the opposite is true for individuals who are unhappy in their relationship during pregnancy. (2)
Another study suggests that the deterioration of relationship satisfaction with parents depends on the pregnancy, the marriage as a whole, and individual characteristics of each partner. In an eight year longitudinal study, the researchers studied couples in their transition to parenthood as well as married couples who are not parents. The research concluded that relationship satisfaction decline happens more rigidly and at a steeper slope after having children when compared to the steady decline of a non parent relationship. (3) This may suggest that the only thing a baby will do is deteriorate the satisfaction due to the domestic labor of caring for a baby and will only further deteriorate a couple’s relationship satisfaction.
These findings can seem grim as they suggest babies will only hurt a couple’s relationship. However, there is an upside. Having a child has shown in studies to increase relationship commitment. When there is a child involved, couples are less likely to get divorced when children are involved as it has been proven to be more painful. Leonhardt et al found that a couple’s relationship commitment increases when a child is born due to biological, psychological, and social reasons. (1) Another study conducted by Leopold et al concluded that divorce is more painful for both partners, especially the mother (in a heterosexual marriage), when children are involved. When a couple who have children goes through a divorce, the well-being of the entire family unit decreases rapidly and there are more emotional, economical, and social consequences. (4)
Overall, having a child will not save your relationship or marriage because it has been shown that relationship satisfaction decreases with the birth of a child as both partners are exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed caring for their newborn. There is less time for the couple to spend alone together which can cause disconnect, resentment, and growing apart. However, if your relationship is happy and stable throughout the pregnancy and before, the birth of a child will most likely not break your relationship.
- Leonhardt, Nathan D., et al. “Relationship Satisfaction and Commitment in the Transition to Parenthood: A Couple‐Centered Approach.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12785.
- Ter Kuile, Hagar, et al. “Changes in Relationship Commitment across the Transition to Parenthood: Pre-Pregnancy Happiness as a Protective Resource.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12, 2021, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.622160.
- Doss, B. D., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). The effect of the transition to parenthood on relationship quality: an 8-year prospective study. Journal of personality and social psychology, 96(3), 601–619. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0013969
- Leopold, T., Kalmijn, M. Is Divorce More Painful When Couples Have Children? Evidence From Long-Term Panel Data on Multiple Domains of Well-being. Demography 53, 1717–1742 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0518-2Leopold, T., Kalmijn, M. Is Divorce More Painful When Couples Have Children? Evidence From Long-Term Panel Data on Multiple Domains of Well-being. Demography 53, 1717–1742 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0518-2
2 Replies to “Will a baby save my rocky relationship?”
You “In short, no” really cracked me up! I wonder the consequences of having children in non-marriage relationships would differ from couples who are married. It seems that the increase in relationship commitment has to do with the biological connection with the child, as well as the material responsibility. I wonder if, without the financial constraints of divorce, the couple who decides to have a child before marriage would experience different effects. It would be understandable that if such a relationship is already rocky, the relationship satisfaction would not increase — but what about commitment? In addition, I wonder if there are situations where couples get married to save their relationship (hmm, sounds counterintuitive, but maybe people do that, too!)
I thought you did a great job of addressing the question of whether a baby will save a marriage. I was particularly struck by the sentence: “When there is a child involved, couples are less likely to get divorced when children are involved as it has been proven to be more painful.” Subjectively, I’ve noticed that many parents seem to get divorced the second their children leave for college — as if their children were the only thing keeping them together. Intuitively, it makes sense that people might be less incentivized to get divorced for the “sake of their children” and keep their family life uncomplicated. While these studies looked at couples between 20 weeks of pregnancy and 12 months postpartum, it would be neat to explore whether commitment declines 18 years after a child is born. With fewer familial obligations once a child is gone, there is less incentive to remain committed on top of already declining satisfaction within the relationship.