Doing Life Together

couple in loveMike and Jan were excited about having their first baby and becoming new parents. Several of their friends were entering this new stage of family life and the anticipation of impending parenthood created excitement. Yet, all the changes and stress were taking a toll on their marital relationship. The couple argued about small things, busied themselves with too many task and lost sight of time together. This was supposed to be a happy time in their lives, so why didn’t they feel happy?

Having a baby is not the easiest transition for couples even when the experience is positive. The reason for this is because marriages are vulnerable during transition times. Marital satisfaction usually takes a dive because couples face more conflict and tend to have less positive communication. Stress rises and if you aren’t careful, that stress can challenge the marriage. The question then is what helps couples prevent this normal developmental change from becoming so stressful?

Researchers Shapiro and Gottman wanted to find out so they studied a group of couples who had children during the first six years of marriage. Looking at the couples who became parents, they studied those whose relationships remained stable and actually increased on measures of marital satisfaction versus those who did not. They identified a key factor that helped buffer the stress of having a new baby. It may surprise you, but speaks to the importance of friendship in marriage.

Marital friendship was the important factor that buffered the stress for couples making the transition to becoming new parents. That friendship included two key elements: 1) Spouses had a level of awareness about their partner, his/her life and the couple relationship. 2) Husbands admired and were fond of their wives.

So if you want to protect your marital relationship from stress, build your friendship. Don’t get so busy and consumed with the details of having a new baby that you ignore your partner. Keep the friendship strong and make time for each other. Focus on things you admire and respect about your spouse. Get to know your spouses’ interests, stay positive, talk, have fun together and enjoy each other’s company. The strength of the marital friendship will serve you well when stress and change become a part of your family life.

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