First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. And well... then comes divorce for some couples. Most of us understand that having a baby can throw our lives into disarray, but many of us also want to believe our marriages won't be a casualty. Is there any way to spot trouble in paradise before adding a little one to the mix? Apparently there are some red flags your marriage won't last when you become parents, according to therapists.
Couples and family therapists who work with couples in all stages and chapters of relationships can offer valuable insight into what can make or break a marriage after starting a family. Of course, many of these red flags are invaluable to identify and rectify long before you start talkin' babies. If you're considering taking the next step in your relationship, whether that be through moving in together, getting married, or having children, it's crucial to note any weaknesses that could pose a potential threat to your union. After all, it's easier to work on these issues sooner rather than later, before a screaming baby and sleep deprivation can make all your problems seem bigger, harder, and more insurmountable.
1. You Aren't Patient With Each Other
We all have moments when we're at our wit's end, but is patience typically a scarce resource in your relationship? If so, the transition to parents may be a hard — or fatal — blow to the marriage.
Raffi Bilek, licensed clinical social worker and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, says patience is not only helpful but necessary, particularly during the early stages of parenthood. "Everybody is really tired. They're getting up in the middle of the night, there's a possibly slow recovery, possibly postpartum depression. People are exhausted, and people don’t have a lot of time for each other," Bilek tells Romper. Some couples can patiently withstand these growing pains, while others may crumble.
Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says it's important that couples are also patient with themselves as they navigate a new reality that often looks different from their expectations. "As wonderful as having a new child can be, they may be grieving the loss of the ways things used to be — spontaneous date nights with their spouse, sleeping in (or sleeping at all), not having to pack up a bunch of stuff before leaving the house with baby, and so on," she tells Romper.
2. You Have A Habit Of "Keeping Score"
Do you know a couple that is always going tit for tat with each other? Are you that type of couple? When you're keeping score in your relationship, or justifying bad behavior — "because you did [insert grievance] to me" — your marriage is bound to struggle.
Dr. Hersha Diaz is a licensed clinical psychologist in a private practice based in NYC, working primarily with young urban professionals and families. She's seen this red flag firsthand, and tells Romper it can cause a marriage to implode when children enter the picture. "They forget they are on the same team with the common goal of maintaining a healthy and happy relationship and family dynamic."
3. There Are Fundamental Communication Issues In The Relationship
There's no way to fix an issue in a relationship if you don't put it on the table and discuss it. Because a couple inevitably faces more stressors once a child is born, you're doomed if you can't hash it out with each other.
"There has to be a way to talk about problems: hard ones, emotional ones, sensitive ones. If a couple cannot talk about their problems, things wont get better," Bilek says.
4. You Have Conflicting Childrearing Philosophies
As a child, I was so jealous of my friends who knew how to "work the system." If mom said no, they knew dad would say yes, or vice versa. My own parents had such a united front that I knew no always meant no — and it was so frustrating. Turns out, their united front was a sign of their healthy marriage. When two parents have conflicting child-rearing philosophies, it can cause a lot of damage.
"People don’t usually talk about their philosophy with childrearing until it’s upon them, and it would be nice if they did. You know, people who are like really strict versus really lenient — that can cause a lot of conflict between parents with different child-rearing philosophies," Bilek says.
Diaz agrees, and says that childrearing isn't the only important topic that should be discussed. "Discuss core values and make sure you are at least on similar pages when it comes to the areas of finance, religion, lifestyle and health, and family."
5. You Are Unwilling To Ask For Help
We've all heard the quote that it "takes a village" to raise a child, but if you're not willing to ask your village for help... you might not make it. If you need grandma or grandpa to take the baby for a few hours so you can go on a date — or, let's be real, watch Netflix and take a nap — do it. If you're reaching your breaking point and need someone else to comfort the crying infant, swallow your pride and ask. Most importantly, don't assume that your marital woes are simply a fact of your new life.
"Go seek counseling .... There’s no reason that people should think, 'Well you know, this is the way it is, we can’t fix it.' Put effort and time into your marital relationship. It is not going to maintain itself," Bilek says.
Even if you don't see these red flags prior to having a child, it's not a mystery that marriages can take a beating when there's a new baby. Though it may take extra effort (and certainly some extra planning), it's important to prioritize things that will strengthen your bond as a couple.
"Make time to nurture your marriage and engage in novel experiences with your partner apart from baby and family time, in order to create excitement and connection," says Diaz. "Remind yourselves that you are in this together for the long haul. The best thing you can do for your child is to model a healthy and loving relationship with your child’s parent."