Why Do So Many Couples Break Up After Having a Baby?

In true creepy blogger stalker fashion, I’ve been a fan of Babble writer Monica Bielanko and her husband for quite some time now.

Which is why, when I read her recent post about the breakup of her marriage, I was shocked in a way that felt like watching my favorite celebrity couple separate. (Yes, I’m still in the camp of being slightly sad that Jess and Nick didn’t work out, OK?)

No! I thought. They just had a baby! How can they break up?!

But of course, I know nothing about the intricacies of their marriage, the specifics of their breakup, or if the baby had anything to do with the split. And while I wish them the best and will most likely be following their separate journeys, I couldn’t help but think — is there any correlation to breaking up after baby? With my own marriage to be tested with the addition of a fourth baby within six years in two months, I admit I’m a little more than nervous about the added stress on our relationship.

So I turned to Carla Marie Greco, PhD and Clinical Psychologist, for some answers and insight.

Image via j&j brusie photography
Image via j&j brusie photography

How many marriages and relationships actually do break up after baby?

According to the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, within three years of the birth of a child, approximately two-thirds of couples find that the quality of their relationship declines and within five years of the birth of a first child, 13 percent of marriages end in divorce for couples who were married at the time of the child’s birth. The five-year dissolution rate rises to 39 percent for couples who were living together at the time of the first child’s birth.

According to the CDC’s statistics through 2010, your marriage has a higher probability rate of surviving 10 years of marriage if you wait until at least eight months into your marriage to have a baby. While the survival rate for couples who have children before marriage or within the first seven months of wedded bliss hovers at about .55, that number jumps up to .85 for couples whose bundles of joy arrive after eight months.

How can a couple tell if their marriage is in trouble because of their relationship or if it’s “just” the stress of a new baby?

When a baby comes into a couple’s life, extra stress and strain is understandable. In a healthy relationship, the couple tends to pull together and is aware that any tension and discord are a result of adding new responsibilities and demands. In general, when it is “just” new baby stress, the situation tends to improve dramatically when the couple is able to get more sleep and spend time together that restores a sense of loving marital closeness. Signs of deep relationship trouble are indicated by more dramatic and lasting shifts in behaviors. Such warning signs include constant fighting and avoidance of home life (e.g., not coming home, keeping late hours, refusal of co-parenting duties, substance abuse, etc.).

How would you advise a couple with a young baby who is considering divorce?

Even the healthiest of new marriages can be strained by the addition of a new baby. If a couple begins to consider divorce during a baby’s infancy, I recommend seeking outside support promptly. Even the most well-prepared new parents simply can’t predict in advance the dramatic shifts in demands, changes, and pressures that come along with the little one’s arrival. When the road gets too bumpy for the couple to handle with their regular coping skills, outside resources can be tremendously beneficial. Whether the couple turns to a marriage therapist, pastor, or support group, seeking support during this intense period of transition can help a couple avoid the devastation of divorce.

What are some tips for parents-to-be on sustaining a marriage through the life changes of a baby?

  • Commit to date night. Well in advance of the baby’s arrival, commit to keeping couple time at a premium by scheduling regular time alone (date nights, exercising together, etc.). Couples need to make their marriage a priority, especially when the baby arrives.
  • Book a sitter. Obtain recommendations for babysitters and screen the possibilities well before baby’s arrival. This way, you and your sweetheart can have a few much-needed hours to catch up on sleep, enjoy a bit of self-care, run errands, or spend precious time together. Many couples rely upon in-laws or other family members to step in, but it’s always wise to have a back-up plan. A good babysitter can give the new parents just the break they need to keep the marriage alive and well!
  • Stick together. Remember that it takes a partnership to raise a baby. Successful partnerships succeed when collaboration, mutual respect, and thoughtful appreciation are priorities. Couples who let go of the “small stuff” and focus on the key issues the — baby’s health, the importance of the marriage, and the creation of a loving, safe home life —tend to be the happiest. By choosing to bypass the smaller issues (such as that extra pile of dirty laundry or a missed golf game with buddies), the long term goals of the relationship tend to stay front and center.
  • Find support. It’s always a good idea to have a regular source of support during any major life transition. Whether having a regular meeting time with friends, parent-to-be support group, therapist, or other trusted mentor, having a place to download and share is worth its weight in gold!


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