According to new research, relationships are adversely affected by having children. Relate’s head of policy, and a relationship counsellor explain where the issues lie and why we argue more after having children…
New research published today reveals that couples with children notice a greater strain on their relationships than those without, with parents citing financial pressures as one of the main issues.
The annual study of over 6000 people, carried out by Relate, Relationships Scotland and Marriage Care, found that a third of participants with children under five said childcare and bringing up children was a top strain.
It also highlighted the pressure to balance work and family life, with 40% of working parents saying there was an assumption that the most productive employees put work before children.
Kate Joplin, head of policy for Relate, says: “when we look across our findings, there are a few things coming up that interrupt relationships – particularly with children: childcare concerns, the pressures of juggling family life, being under pressure at work.”
The 2014 Family Test – an assessment on how all government policies affect families, as part of an ongoing commitment by the prime minister – showed that it’s not just welfare, childcare, maternity/paternity leave having an effect but also housing and transport – among others.
“People are not individual units,” says Joplin, “they live in relationships and families. Policy can be blunt in treating people like units. We need to step away and look at how we can help families to stay together.”
So if there are, as the study suggests, clear areas affecting couples with children – what are they, and what can be done to improve relationships after a baby comes along?
Relationship and family counsellor Denise Knowles says that arguments are usually started when one or both parents are tired. “When you’ve got children you can often find that you don’t get as much sleep as you might like and additional things tire you out: chasing a toddler around, acting as a taxi.
But there are also some fundamentally problematic areas that can become even harder to negotiate when two become three.
Why couples argue more after having children
“Couples may argue about how it’s made, how it’s spent, if someone’s working all hours and not spending time with family,” says Knowles, “or if one person is a spender, one a saver. Throw children into the mix; demanding money for the latest gadgets and this is an additional pressure.”
Knowles explains how these issues can be avoided: “when a couple get together and decide to set up home, they should have a conversation about money and how to manage it. If you know who earns what and how it should be spent before children, it’s easier to discuss when kids come along.”
“If you’ve not been very good at talking about it – you’ll find yourself arguing, so discuss when to save, when to spend and meet in the middle; you’re never going get 100% of what you want 100% of the time. Arrange your finances and find a good way of budgeting – including everything, even down to putting so much money aside for holidays.”
A poll for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour last year showed that women do nearly twice as much housework as men. With the new findings revealing that parents are 10% more likely to put off household chores than couples without children – this becomes an area fraught with potential for dispute.
Knowles says: “once upon a time dad went to work and mum stayed home – there may have been rows but each person at least had an idea about what their role was. Now parents might both work so finding an equal balance of chores is tricky.”
“Sometimes women feel their partners don’t do the chores to the right standard, which puts the men off trying. My advice: get rid of pink and blue jobs: everything outside is his; inside is hers. If you can cut the grass, he can mop the floor. Recognise what you can do and if you’re struggling – ask for help.”
Today’s findings show that 37% of parents feel that work interferes with home life, personal life and caring responsibilities, compared to 27% of workers without children.
“We clearly still have challenges around childcare, says Joplin, “we need to help people so that they can afford childcare, juggle family life. Also, the way people are employed – we need to reduce pressure and offer support and flexibility.”
From a relationship perspective, Knowles says: “if you have different attitudes to work, and have children, the man may think that the woman should stay at home. She may think: I’ve studied hard, qualified – I don’t want to give it up, so she might work part time but then he might expect her to do all the housework.”
Also, earning different amounts can be difficult. “She might go out to work and have a greater income, and he might have more time at home. But community and societal influences come into play here: dad taking toddler to mum and tots group, dad always picking child up from school gates – it can be isolating for dads.”
What to do? “Just recognise each other’s roles and value what the other does – be aware of how you each contribute to the whole relationship.”
Of the 6000 people interviewed, 47% of parents reported never or rarely engaging in outside interests with their partner – compared to 27% of people without children.
Knowles says: “This one is about balance. Maintain some interests outside of the couple relationship; maintain who you are individually, but also make time for your relationship. Having a night away from one another can be healthy; it gives you something to bring back into the relationship and talk about.”
Another issue is socialising with friends. Going out with friends is important, says Knowles, “but you may have different preferences. So communicate. Decide how much you should go out, what you’ll spend, who you’ll socialise with. It can give new energy; new topics of conversation.”
“It’s a comment on the strength and security, the robustness of the couple’s relationship, if it can accommodate flirting with the knowledge that ‘she/he is coming home with me so I don’t have any concerns’. It can be quite fun, as long as both people in the couple are ok with it,” says Knowles.
“Arguments are when one or other feel threatened by that activity. What do you do, stop working with the person in question? Stop seeing them? You look at the roots of the insecurity. This can be difficult and you may need to see a counsellor together, who will be objective.”
But what are the signs that flirting has turned into something more serious? “You could notice they’re spending more time on social media, getting home late, going out with friends more often,” says Knowles, “and any change is something that could need addressing. If it bothers you – bring it to your partner’s attention.”
It may be innocent, she says, “but if it’s bothering you, you need to say. If you’re the one indulging in the behaviour – ask yourself: what is this about? What I am I getting here that I’m not getting from my relationship.”
Parents who were in a relationship with children were much more likely to say they had not had sex in the last month (43%) compared to those without children (26%), today’s findings show.
“Intimacy is not just about sex. They may argue about the fact that they don’t feel sexy – if you’ve just had baby, or have a toddler, for instance. Sometimes partners can contribute by not complimenting each other.”
“A difficult birth may cause mum to not want to have sex, as she doesn’t want to get pregnant. Or there can be issues with a lack of touch for one or other. This can lead to flirting outside of the relationship; spending more time away,” says Knowles.
“There may be an issue with what you both need. Spend time as a couple: if you can’t afford a babysitter, or can’t afford dinner – get a takeaway, make it a date night in. Reconnect at an emotional and sensual level before sexual.”
Did you argue more after having children? Or less, perhaps? We’d love to hear about how it affected your relationship in the comment section below…