Most couples don’t imagine such marital turbulence when they get pregnant. Babies, after all, are supposed to bring endless, unremitting joy. That’s the idealistic view many of us have, especially if our parents grew up in the late 1950s—an era steeped in a traditional view of marriages and families. TV programs like Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet depicted working fathers as all-wise; stay-at-home mothers as all-nurturing; children as surprisingly obedient and, when not, creating small but manageable crises easily resolvable in 23 minutes. The protagonists were mostly middle class, mostly white, and, it turns out, mostly wrong.
A bracingly cold glass of water was thrown on this Eisenhoweresque perception by famed sociologist E.E. LeMasters. In 1957, he published a research paper showing that 83 percent of new parents experienced a moderate to severe crisis in the marriage during the transition to parenthood. These parents became increasingly hostile toward each other in the first year of the baby’s life. The majority were having a hard time.
Such results were the sociological equivalent of claiming that Earth was flat. Conflict wasn’t supposed to happen when a couple had their first baby. Joy was supposed to happen. Prior to these studies, many felt that giving birth was such a powerful positive experience it could actually save marriages—and LeMasters’s data suggested the opposite. He was roundly criticized when he published his findings. Some researchers privately suspected him of fabricating them.
Practical tip #7: Balance the housework load
Guys, start helping around the house now. Make a list of what your wife does. Make a list of what you do. If your list displays the toxic inequality typical in the United States—you know, the one predictive of divorce rates—then change the list. Balance it until you both are satisfied with what equality means.
Once the list has been renegotiated, get started on these changes immediately. Before you are sleep deprived. Before you are socially isolated. Before you start fighting. There is even empirical support that you will get more sex if you do. No kidding. Somebody actually studied it.
- Start with empathy