Marriage changes after you have kids — in some ways for the better, in some for the worse. Okay well, actually for the worse. There are just so many developments to contend with, and so much sleep deprivation to ratchet things up. But it’s not all bad. A recent study finds that your relationship doesn’t tank quite so hard after having baby #2, and it recovers faster as well.
For the study, researchers from the Dresden University of Technology in Germany followed 500 first-time and 106 second-time dads, checking in with them about their relationship satisfaction four times throughout the study period: two months before the birth of the baby and then 8 weeks, 14 weeks, and two years afterward.
The researchers confirm that first-time dads experience a big dip in relationship satisfaction (similar to the way first-time mothers do, as previous research has shown). That dip continues until up to 14 months postpartum.
Luckily for fathers who have a second child, that decline in relationship satisfaction isn’t so bad the next time around. It still declines, but not as steeply, and it stops earlier, too.
At both 14 months and two years after having their second baby, dads rate their relationship satisfaction higher than first-time dads at the same point postpartum. In fact, second-time dads reported increasing relationship satisfaction by 14 months postpartum that continues through the two-year check in. By that point, their relationship satisfaction has returned to baseline levels. In other words, by two years out, they were as happy in their relationship as before they had that second kid.
“The transition to parenthood can negatively affect the relationship satisfaction of fathers, more so for first than for second-time fathers, however, this can recover over time,” the study authors said in a press release. “Preparation and anticipation may be key.”
So why do couples have trouble after having a baby? This particular study didn’t investigate why. But there are no shortage of potential reasons, including a lack of time for emotional and sexual connection, as well as new areas for resentment and conflict.
Relationship maintenance after kids is not a one-size-fits-all system. But successful couples keep the particular components in mind. Most of all, patience, understanding, and good communication are key.
“Try to organize your schedule so that you have some time together, without having to do chores or work, after the baby is asleep,” psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., previously told Fatherly. “Talk frequently about how you’re both doing, whether your arrangement feels fair, and encourage your partner to talk about what’s bothering him or her.”
If you feel your relationship change for the worse after you welcome a child, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with you or your partner or the two of you as a couple. A dip in relationship satisfaction is normal, even if it’s no fun. And if you’re gearing up for a second child, you can rest assured that the toll on your marriage probably won’t be as bad as it was last time — and you’ll probably recover quicker too.