Does having kids make a marriage happy or hopeless? One study claims to have the answer and the results aren't exactly encouraging for parents.
According to the study of more than 5,000 people to be published later this week by Open University in the U.K., childless couples ranked the quality of their relationships higher, felt more valued by their partners, and (shocker) spent more time maintaining their relationships, going on dates, and having intimate conversations — undoubtedly easier to do when you're not racing through dinner to relieve the sitter or halting that crazy-deep conversation when the baby starts crying.
Yet, there was also a fascinating gender divide: Mothers were happier than married women without children, but the opposite was true for men — fathers were slightly less content than their childless counterparts.
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The study is the latest to stir the pot in the seemingly endless debate over who lives the good life: parents or childless couples. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control published data revealing that couples who bore children, whether it was before or after tying the knot, were far likelier to stay together than child-free couples, in part because not having kids may indicate stress in a marriage or an inability to conceive (a little presumptuous, given that many couples voluntarily choose not to become parents).
Meanwhile, a different study published the previous year acknowledged that while the stress of kids can burden a young marriage, having a family eventually pays off, as children grow up and become more enjoyable as adults.
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So who really has it better? "All couples, whether they have children or not, experience the same declining levels of happiness as the years go by — feeling under-appreciated, lack of sex, decreased communication skills, financial issues. Having kids just accelerates the speed at which those problems occur," family and relationship expert Laurie Puhn, author of "Fight Less, Love More," tells Yahoo Shine. In fact, one landmark study showed that couples are unhappier after the first year of parenting than before having children, but that couples without kids become equally unhappy after seven years of marriage.
"Couples with kids have to get real with each other quickly to respond to the urgent needs of children, but their differences are no greater than those of childless couples," adds Puhn. "The latter just have more time to suppress the same problems."
So, if you're worried that having kids will weaken your happy marriage, don't be. Likewise, if you don't want children, conceiving because some study indicated you'd be better off is naive and irresponsible. "If children were the tipping point between a happy and unhappy marriage, why do so many empty nesters divorce?" says Puhn. "By that theory, sending them to college should allow couples more time to enjoy each other."
The reason many couples (with or without children) split up is because they haven't developed the right communication skills to weather the highs and lows of marriage. "Respecting each other, resolving problems, and learning from mistakes will make a relationship grow, not having a baby," she says.