What do kids do to a relationship? Will your marriage be better or worse for it? – Recent research published by W. Bradford Wilcox and others at the University of Virginia digged out interesting findings. It turns out, that, on average, parenthood decreases marital happiness. Not overall happiness, but marital happiness. Yet, a significant minority of 35% (about the share of the winning parties in the recent elections in North Africa) remain happy in their marriage, or even see their marital happiness increase after children arrive.
What do these folks do differently? Here is a quick account of their top 6 relationship factors:
1. A happy and active sex life. In terms impact, this is the strongest factor. “Sexually satisfied wives enjoy a 43-percentage-point premium in the odds of being very happy in their marriages, and sexually satisfied husbands enjoy a 46-percentage-point premium in marital happiness.”
2. Thinking ‘we’ instead of ‘me’. Married parents who score above average in terms of commitment are at least 45 percentage points more likely to report being “very happy” in their marriages, and 23 percentage points less likely to be prone to divorce. ‘Commitment’ measures the extent to which spouses see their relationship in terms of “we” versus “me,” the importance they attach to their relationship, their conviction that a better relationship with someone else does not exist, and their desire to stay in the relationship “no matter what rough times we encounter.”
3. Random acts of kindness. Married parents who are generous with each other —both in terms of giving and receiving in a spirit of generosity—are significantly more likely to report that they are ‘very happy’ in their marriage. Generosity is defined as the virtue of giving good things to [one’s spouse] freely and abundantly, and encompasses small acts of service (e.g., making coffee for one’s spouse in the morning), the expression of affection, displays of respect, and a willingness to “forgive him/her for mistakes and failings.”
4. A family-centered value system. Independent of religion, couples who value family life, and having and rearing children, and always did, are obviously: happier parents.
5. Good friends and peers who share the experience of parenthood. “Research suggests that parents who have friends or peer support groups with whom they can talk about the challenges of parenthood do markedly better than parents who go it alone.” But the influence of family and friends can be for good or ill. Family and friends who encourage strife or who give a bad example are no support for married parents. On the other hand, couples who experience high levels of support from family and friends for their marriage also report a more happy marriage. This factor ranks no. 5 for women, but is not in the top five for husbands.
6. Shared and practiced religion. Couples who attend religious services together are more happy parents. Couples who subjectively feel ‘God at the center’ of their marriage are even more happy. “Shared religious attendance is linked to an increase of more than 3 percentage points that a parent is very happy in marriage, and to a decrease of more than 3 percentage points that a parent is prone to separation or divorce.” (These percentages increase 8-fold for couples who see a divine presence in their marriage.) – It strikes me that couples with young children who attend services together also have either (i) very well behaved children or (ii) a flexible solution for childcare. – This factor ranks no. 5 for husbands but is not among the top five for wives.
These are the top 6 relationship factors that make husbands and wives happier parents. Our next special will look at the top social factors with the same influence…stay tuned!
Happy Xmas tide until then!