When children come into a marriage, they sure do change the dynamics between both spouses! Sometimes the change is for the better. That is because children are cute and can bring times of laughter and fun. But other times they bring added challenges, which can cause stress fractures within the relationship. No matter what, children change the dynamics of marriage.
“The catch is that along with joy that children bring, their needs and demands often raise to the surface. They aggravate any pre-existing problems a couple has experienced. Unresolved problems from your own childhood can bubble up. ‘They can then threaten and even sink a relationship. If you know anyone who dreamed that having a child would cure an ailing marriage, you no doubt understand the problem. That is, with every additional member of your household, there’s more stress on those already there.” (Barbara Inger)
Children Change a Marriage
We sure aren’t trying to talk couples out of having children. It has been said, “Children are a blessing from the Lord.” And we agree. But we want to make sure that you “consider the costs” as the Bible also talks about. Please make sure your relationship is as solid as possible. And make sure you are able to resolve conflict in healthy ways. (That is because children will put pressure upon your relationship and conflict IS inevitable.)
So What Can You Do?
“What can couples do to avoid trouble, maintain and strengthen their partnership? There’s no magic. You’ve just got to make it a priority. ‘Decide that you’re not going to let [your relationship] go. Be committed to making it work and to being in the marriage for the long haul,’ says Teresa Parr, Parent Coaching Consultant.
“‘Babies are loud about what they need. Marriages are not,’ Parr says. ‘It’s easy to neglect each other because other things are more urgent. But you have to save some time and energy for your spouse.’ Making time for each other may not be easy, but it’s essential. Schedule time together just as you would a meeting. ‘Put it on your calendar,’ urges Cohen. Even half an hour to talk and share your feelings will serve as a tonic for your relationship.
“Good communication is ‘the blood flow of the relationship,’ says Cohen. Tell each other what you want and need without criticism or accusation. Avoid using words such as ‘always’ or ‘never.’ Even when you disagree, ‘honor the differences’ between you, says Finneran. You do that by listening carefully and respectfully to your partner. Listen. Suggest and discuss ideas. Then, make your decisions together.” (“Barbara Inger, in the Richmond Parens Monthly article, “Marriage Matters: The Little Things Matter the Most”)
Even the desire for a child can add stress sometimes to the breaking point.
What Type of Home Will Your Child Be Born Into?
What amazes us is how some spouses want a child so badly that he or she (or both) completely overlooks how unhealthy their home is that this child would be born into. Isn’t the child supposed to be considered here? He or she isn’t a toy without emotional and physical needs to be met. Nor are they a cute, playful puppy or a pacifier to make a parent feel better in a difficult situation. Please consider this if you are considering or are attempting to have a child.
“So many couples today decide to have children for all the wrong reasons. They believe that having children will bring an end to all the pain in their lives. Somehow the home will magically become filled with love and warmth when they bring the baby through the door. They somehow hold on to the belief that the addition of children into the marital mix will serve as a way to solve problems that the marital relationship may be having. This belief is based on the idea that once we have a baby, everything good will only get better and everything bad will disappear.
“Actually, the opposite is true. A baby often makes things worse. If the couple doesn’t deal with the problems they already were having, the problems will most likely rear their ugly heads again. Why? Because unresolved conflict always shows back up. And now you will be sleep-deprived and cranky when it gets there. You will be even less likely to resolve it with a baby crying in the background.” (Dr Debbie Cherry, from the book, “Child-proofing Your Marriage”)
Grow Up Time
If you’re already pregnant or have a child (or more), then it is grow up time. You need to do the best you can to work on your relationship to give your children the best home environment possible. If your spouse isn’t as committed as he or she should be to the marriage, then you do the best you can, given the circumstances, with the Lord’s help and guidance. But if you don’t have a child yet, NOW is the best time to make your relationship solid beforehand.
“When baby makes three… a solid, stable relationship between marriage partners is especially important when children enter the picture for two reasons. The first is because parents model how to have a loving relationship. The second is because it’s a lot more fun.” (Sherry Finneran)
This should challenge any of us who have ANY influence on children — whether they’re our own or not. If we’re true followers of Christ (in “word AND deed”), we should ask ourselves, “Is how we interact with each other a model of how to have a loving Christ-centered relationship? Are we Bible-LIVING examples to those around us?”
Task of Raising Children As Christ Would Have Us
In the Bible, the apostle Paul stated, “If only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.” (Acts 20:24) What more important task can there be than to model Christ in your marriage to children?
We warn you though, don’t allow your home to be so child-focused that you neglect your marriage relationship. Yes, children have needs (and they can appear to be more needy than your marriage). But they also need to know that their home is secure because their parents are tending to their marriage as well.
“One of the big struggles with marriages today is the tendency to put our kids’ needs before those of our spouse. What we don’t realize is that child-centered marriages are often weak marriages. And in the long run child-centered marriages hurt the kids more than they help them. If your spouse is not getting his or her emotional needs met by you, often he or she will pour all their energy into the children. The end result is an unhealthy marriage relationship.
“Obviously, I’m not talking about neglecting your children. I just want to emphasize the importance of seeking to keep your marriage vows a major priority. When children see a marriage relationship of integrity, they’ll feel more secure. In fact, Scripture says, ‘He who walks with integrity walks securely.'” (Proverbs 10:9) (Jim Burns, from the book, Creating an Intimate Marriage)
When There is Infidelity
There is one more thing that we’d like to mention about the way that children change a marriage before we close this message. This concerns a marriage where infertility is involved. This problem can greatly affect the relationship between a husband and wife. That is because of the pressure it brings as they deal with various fertility procedures. Sometimes hopes are drawn out and put on hold or dashed.
We want to warn couples NOT to be caught off-guard as to the damage that can be done to the marriage as this is happening. The enemy of our faith continually seeks to divide us and this is a prime time opportunity to let this happen. This is because emotions run high and uncertainty breeds its own set of problems. It’s important to “be on the alert” to protect your relationship. Don’t forget to work as hard on growing and preserving your marital bond as you are on the efforts (and oftentimes, expense) you put forth to try to conceive a child.
Here are a few thoughts on this issue:
“If you’ve expected to have biological children but infertility dashed that dream, you’ll need to work through feelings of hurt, disappointment, and loss. It’s especially important to recommit to your relationship with your spouse, which now includes the reality that having children biologically is unlikely. Does that mean you must completely erase all grief and pain? No. But working through your feelings can lead to a clear-cut, clear-headed decision to accept life without children or to adopt. If this takes the help of a Christian therapist or pastor, don’t hesitate to get it” (Gail Schra, from the book “The First Five Years of Marriage”).
“If it turns out that together you’re unable to have a baby, it will take time to reach a point of acceptance. It will mean understanding that God is real. Know that He is there, that He understands, and that He is not punishing you. You may have sad and angry days along the way. But there is a hope for joy and contentment as you and your spouse learn to enjoy the life God has given you.
“It may mean making new plans. This can include perhaps adoption, or redefining yourselves as a family of two. Either way, deciding whether to believe that your heavenly Father truly wants the best for both of you is a choice that’s in your hands.” (Sheryl DeWitt, from “The First Five Years of Marriage”)
Added Outside Pressure
We realize that relatives, friends, and cultures can put added pressure upon couples that don’t have children. This does not even include your own desires added to this mix. And how frustrating this can be! Our hearts go out to those who are experiencing this.
I remember the stories my grandmother told of the extreme pressure she felt when she was struggling with not being able to conceive a child for several years after marrying. The people —particularly the women in her (Romanian) village, made such a big deal out of it. She said she was made to feel inadequate and was desperately depressed. The women had all kinds of folklore “remedies” that they convinced her to try. One piece of advice was for her to stand on her head after she had relations with my grandfather. She said she felt stupid doing this, but she was desperate. Plus, she didn’t want to take a chance of missing an opportunity to get pregnant. So she did what was advised (even though it never helped).
Superstition and Shaming
A lot of superstition and condemning talk and actions surrounded her during that time. It was very difficult. Unfortunately, my Grandmother was not a Christian so she didn’t call upon the Lord for help with her emotional sanity during that time. So it was an even lonelier, depressing experience.
Eventually, she got pregnant. (And one-by-one she had 12 children, 6 of whom, died very young deaths.) It was a difficult life. But it was most difficult because she didn’t know she could rely upon the Lord for strength. This could have helped her in so many ways.
“We will lose our strength when we wait upon the event, but our strength will be renewed when we wait upon the Lord.” (Beth Moore)
Dejected and Depressed
I tell you this because we have received letters from women who are feeling dejected and depressed because they can’t get pregnant. Most any woman who has ever wanted to have a child would cry for these women. We understand how much that would grieve us if we were in that situation. But to put added pressure upon them is heartless and ignorant.
If you are in this place of not being able to get pregnant when it is your deepest desire, please don’t forget that we are all walking by faith on this side of heaven. If it’s not one thing we must believe God for, it’s another. Lets not lose sight of working to “be content” in “whatever circumstance” God has allowed within our lives. Lets put our energies into partnering together with Him throughout this journey.
“God never hangs a veil over our understanding accidentally. He is intentional. There is a reason (one we may never understand this side of heaven). And the reason my be that He is calling you to faith (and possibly to another path to follow).” (Beth Moore)
Many women have written to to express how shamed they’ve felt. The women around them have caused them to feel inadequate as women. It’s not bad enough that these women have their own secret longings. But then to have the pressure thrust upon them by others, it makes it all the more difficult.
Being Misunderstood is Common
I want to remind those who have not been able to get pregnant up to this point, that there are times when others will not understand the hurt they are causing in our lives by their condemning actions and words. And some don’t care because of their ignorance. But there is a time in most of our lives when we will be misunderstood for circumstances beyond our control.
For example, Noah was wrongly judged by those within his town. No one knew that God ordained him to do that, which he and they would not understand. But thank God he obeyed and held his head up and went about doing God’s business, despite the taunting and judgment he experienced from others.
Jesus, Himself, understood what it was like to be judged for that, which was unjust and unwarranted. And Mary, His mother, was misunderstood as well. After-all, she WAS pregnant, and yet she was wrongly judged by others for that.
Perhaps You Can’t Get Pregnant?
If you have been unable to get pregnant, it comes to the point where you have to decide that for some reason, God has chosen you to walk a different path. If you aren’t conceiving, then maybe you are called to adopt. Or maybe you are to minister to other people’s children in some way. Or it could be there is a different mission God has for you to concentrate on doing. I don’t know. God does. Look to Him and put your faith leading you in the path you should go.
But to continue to emotionally beat yourself up and spend most of your energies on grieving can be harmful. It might mean that you are going to miss out on the blessings God is trying to get you to participate in for a season of time. Sometimes blessings are hidden behind difficult circumstances. It may be that God wants us to hold our heads up high and walk tall. He wants us to participate with Him in that way instead, despite what others may think or say. Mary had to do this. If others are trying to shame you, then you may need to look to her example.
“The point of life is not to focus on the blessings of life. It is to be a part of God’s bigger story. Think of Mary and how she suffered more when she said ‘yes’ to God than she had ever suffered before. But God used her life in immeasurable ways for the good of more than we could ever imagine!” (Scott Engleman)
Children Change a Marriage One Way or Another
Children change a marriage. This is true whether it is because we have them or we want them (or others want them for us). Whatever may be happening in your life, look to God to help you. Don’t neglect your marriage relationship. Go with God on this. (And please know that we have additional articles that might further help you in the “Children’s Effect on Marriage topic of this web site.)
We pray God ministers to your circumstances.
Cindy and Steve Wright