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Marriage improves when the kids leave

2008-12-04 15:00:59.929936+00 by Dan Lyke 6 comments

Marriage gets better when kids leave the nest

"We found that marital satisfaction increased as the women transitioned to an empty nest," said Sara Gorchoff, one of the authors of the study and a doctoral candidate in the psychology department. "It was not that they spent more time with their partners but that they were better enjoying the time they spent with their partners."

U.C. Berkeley press release on the study

[ related topics: Children and growing up Sociology Marriage ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2008-12-04 18:08:48.952767+00 by: m

Children consume incredible amounts of resources, time and attention. One's world really collapses almost to the size of that of the child. Children always have some sort of crisis in their existence that drags you into either solving it, or doing whatever it takes to just find out about it. They really wreck a sex life -- happy noises are gagged until inhibitions set in. There is no such thing as extemporaneous love making. And the childless think a condom interrupts the moment.

As has been long noted, the revenge of grandchildren is the only possible satisfaction.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-12-04 19:43:59.954721+00 by: Diane Reese

We never found that our children wrecked our sex life. (Although it was pretty funny the first time a teenaged son said something offhand like, "Yeah, well, we know better than to knock when your door is closed, unless it's a real emergency.") And we've always done the sorts of "fun things" mentioned by one woman quoted in the article, like travel and go to art shows: we took the boys with us! Travel and cultural activities were among the things that enriched their early lives: I firmly believe in expanding the size of one's world well beyond the size of one's child.

The boys did, however, take attention and emotional resources that were not in infinite supply, leaving less for us to share with each other. Anna Quindlen once wrote about how a parent's heart expands to the size it needs to be when a second child arrives. I found that to be completely and surprisingly true, but found that my energy and other resources did not similarly expand, making it a challenging set of years. (Although honestly, 20 years that I would never, ever, ever take back or even really do much differently.)

We've found this year with our so-called nest empty that we just breathe more easily, and settle into the space around us that is quieter and has less vibration than when two dynamic young men in the early stages of their adult lives are buzzing through it. Feeling confident that they're on good paths and are using their personal inner resources well leads to a feeling of satisfaction with "how they're turning out" and less of a tendency for a worry-wart mom to have them actively on her mind all the time, releasing further emotional energy for re-use. It also leads, for me, to a new sense of possibilities, and those include new vistas and explorations for my husband and me. I am learning now to manage the transitions in and out of visits by young-men-children: there's always a new stage in life, it seems!

#Comment Re: made: 2008-12-04 21:34:28.8691+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger [edit history]

There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of frustration in my own marriage came after we initially had our first children. My wife was extremely dedicated to their care and it took a little growing up for me to realize that (like Diane says) that takes a lot of emotional energy and there isn't a lot left over.

However, as both parents grow with their children, the experiences they share will, I believe, create a marriage that is better post-children than it would have been absent children completely.

(Of course, I have four children, so I have a vested interest in thinking this way.)

This is not to say that children are necessary to achieve nirvana. But someone could look at this and say "Oh, marriage gets better after kids. Guess having kids must really suck. Or maybe it is marriage with kids that sucks."

Having kids is not easy. But life without challenges is no fun.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-12-05 00:12:20.074706+00 by: topspin

I think a study might show the "satisfaction with life" levels of the kids improved also when they left the house.

So, if the participant's lives are not enhanced by this custom/social ritual, perhaps society needs to evolve towards a newer model for birthing/raising the young'uns? I've no idea where that would go, personally, as I can see the need for structure and guidance in a young'uns life, but I've chosen to sit out for that dance.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-12-05 05:41:56.52378+00 by: Diane Reese [edit history]

topspin, note: in the study, it was found that *only* the women's satisfaction with their marriages improved after the kids moved out, not their "satisfaction with life". The authors were careful to state:

"It was not that they spent more time with their partners but that they were better enjoying the time they spent with their partners."


"And the women did not report that the general global satisfaction with their lives got better, just their marriages. They were enjoying the time with their partners more."

(Emphasis mine above.)

No comment was made about whether "participant's lives are not enhanced by this custom/social ritual". In my case (and Mark's above, I suspect), my life was 100% enhanced by having and raising my children (and I like to think that the world is and will be a better place in the long run for my having done so). No particular reason to change how that birthing and raising works, in my estimation: I did a better job than many. Besides, now I get to have a whole 'nother relationship with my husband!

(P.S. - my sons were both happy to get out of our house and on with their own lives, but they also claim to really enjoy time with us and miss us, and they seem to prefer to spend their holidays and summers with us if they can arrange it, so I think we've got a mutual admiration/toleration society going here. (It couldn't *possibly* be because California is so wonderful, *cough*cough*.))

#Comment Re: made: 2008-12-05 10:21:49.075947+00 by: topspin

Diane, I misread the second quote, which is my error.

While I'm betting your kids are great kids and the process worked fine, the big picture of society tilts fairly precariously, IMO, with positive family experiences and terrible family experiences.

Most Flutterbarians probably lean toward more positive experiences both as parents and kids, but I don't think folks here are a representative sample nor am I often described as pro-marriage or pro-parenting. Obviously, my reading comprehension shows a certain bias.