Many married couples think they may never have a normal conversation or a full night’s sleep after the birth of their first child. But there’s good news: The transition period often isn’t as long for the second baby.
While the initial four weeks after the second birth involves a period of adjustment, couples often adapt to the changes within four months—and the quality of their marriage returns to where it was before the birth.
The findings, which contradict other studies that have suggested marital satisfaction continues to decline with each additional child, are published in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice.
When researchers examined marital changes one year after the birth of the second child, most couples were more positive than negative about their marriages and managed the transition with little change. Overall, couples experienced only minor disruption when the new baby was added to the family.
“Even when there was significant change, it was often short-lived, attesting to family resilience rather than crisis after the birth of a couple’s second child,” says Brenda Volling, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
For the study, researchers tracked more than 200 married from the last trimester of pregnancy through one, four, eight, and 12 months postpartum. Couples completed self-reports on marital communication, parenting stress, support from family and friends, and their overall satisfaction with their marriage.
Many couples (44 percent) had wives reporting small declines in positive marital relations, but no increase in marital conflict. Husbands reported a honeymoon period with less conflict in the month following the birth.
Some couples did have a more difficult time. Husbands and wives had different views about their marriages, with the men claiming their marriages were more satisfying and positive than the women.
Earlier studies found that couples became more traditional in their household and childrearing responsibilities after the birth of a first child. Wives did more work than husbands. These changes in the traditional division of labor, maybe the reason for a decline in marital satisfaction after birth, Volling says.
“What we’re finding is that it is not who is doing what with respect to childcare, but how couples communicate around child care.”
Couples who have a difficult transition are more likely to use destructive marital communication (yelling, blaming, threatening their spouse) during child care disagreements about who is doing (or not doing) what. Meanwhile, couples using more constructive communication and problem-solving strategies fare better after the birth of their second child.
Thirty-five percent of couples reported more stress and disruption immediately following the birth. Wives noted more conflict. Husbands said they experienced a drop in their positive feelings about the marriage.
This group had a more difficult time but the disruptive period was short-lived, says coauthor Richard Gonzalez, professor of psychology, statistics, and marketing. Couples engaged in positive marital relations again by four months.
Couples who communicate positively and receive support from family and friends are better able to cope with stress, which prevents marital decline, Volling says.
Researchers from Texas Tech University and from University of Georgia contributed to the study.