Did you know that the research shows that marriage takes a hit when you have kids? One author reported in 2005 that an analysis of 90 different research studies showed the drop in marital satisfaction is a shocking 42% larger among the current generation than their predecessors. A more recent study from 2016 showed that 67% of couples reported a decline in relationship happiness for up to three years after the birth of their first child.[1] Those figures are reported in non-pandemic situations.  

Clearly, parenting does impact marriage for most of us, and parenting during a pandemic presents additional challenges. We want to give you some concrete ways to boost your marriage even while you’re parenting during a pandemic.

How to Prioritize Your Marriage

Instagram and Facebook don’t tell the full story. While we find ourselves posting photos of some pretty sweet moments with our kids, we need to normalize the fact that parenting is very challenging. It makes life more complex and challenging. And those Instagram moments are few and far between. We don’t want to be negative, but we do want to be real. Parenting is hard work.

Recognize the Pressure

High expectations mean lots of social pressure to have your kid excel in one area, if not multiple areas: academically, socially, in sports or athletics, with spiritual values, etc. It’s exhausting and consuming.[2]

As if this wasn’t challenging enough, the compounding problem is that by the time the kids are all launched, the dad and mom hardly know each other and they’ve endured all this stress with little resolution: divorce can become an appealing option.[3]

So how does a couple balance all these demands and not end up in that place? Here are a few ways to help couples find balance.

Have a Daily Stress-Reducing Conversation

Stress often creates overwhelm and emotional reactivity. Having a stress-reducing conversation involves discussing the day’s frustrations, but separating those frustrations from the relationship. Don’t blame all of your frustrations on the relationship when stress is likely the root cause. That gives you both a chance to vent, gain support, and show empathy for one another.[4] This is very important during isolation too.

Spend Time with Just One Another

This is good at any time, but extra tough if you have kids at home right now who are normally at school. Be intentional about making the time for one another. This restores or fosters a sense of partnership so it’s not only about parenting but also what exists between you two.[5] Think about ways you can do this on a daily basis (smaller, consistent moments) but also on an intermittent basis (e.g. date nights). This may look a bit different during a pandemic, but try to find creative ways to spend time just with one another even if you can’t do some of the activities you would normally do together.

In a pandemic context you likely have more time, but it can be harder to make time just for each other if you are home with your kids, so being intentional about creating time is key to prioritizing time with your spouse.

How to Stay Close to Your Spouse When Parenting is Demanding

If you feel like you’re several years into raising kids and aren’t exactly sure how to pivot back to putting some focus on your marriage, the bonus guide for today’s episode has a couple of great starting points to help you with that. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.

Discuss Division of Labour

A University of California, Berkeley study tracked 100 couples from first pregnancy through the child’s transition to kindergarten found that the No. 1 source of conflict in the first three years of parenthood is the division of labor. According to psychologist Carolyn Page Cowan, the couples had expected a more 50-50 arrangement than they ended up with. The study also showed that when dad doesn’t step up, mom is more likely to report symptoms of depression. “That’s not a good recipe for parenting or for the couple’s relationship,” says Cowan.[6]

You need to talk about expectations here. You need to recognize how that has translated (or not) into what actually happens, and what a fair (not necessarily equal) division of labour would look like.

It’s all the more important to revisit this during a pandemic with changes in work schedule, conditions, or unemployment.

Communicate with Kindness

Sometimes we need to recognize that the stress around us does not need to become the stress between us. When you communicate with your spouse, take a deep breath, take the edge of your tone and find a kind way to ask for what you need.

Cultivate Friendship Between You

Couples who cultivate a friendship during the transition into parenthood report less anger and hostility and feel better equipped to handle challenges.[7] One way of doing this is by asking your partner questions, and keeping up with little details and events in their life.[8]

Benefits to Your Kids

We’ve touched on this in past episodes, but prioritizing your marriage actually has more benefits for your kids than if you prioritize your kids. Recent research has shown that when the family unit falls apart, so do the kids. Children from broken homes have a higher rate of academic problems, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, emotional and behavior problems, violence, suicide, and poverty as adults. The best way to protect your children from these things is to keep your marriage together. Children lose a lot of their sense of security when a marriage breaks down: their world unravels and no amount of baseball, dance, piano lessons or toys can make up for that loss.

According to Gary Smalley and Barb Rosberg (n.d.) “To put your marriage on hold for 18 years – or even one year – while you raise children is not only detrimental to your marriage, but it is also devastating to your children.”[9]

Children need to know that their parents not only love them, but also each other. Their sense of security grows as they see their parents expressing love to one another. This strong bond between you also positions you to be better parents.[10]


[1] April Eldemire, “3 Tips For Couples to Stay Connected After Baby,” 2016, https://www.gottman.com/blog/3-tips-for-couples-to-stay-connected-after-baby/.
[2] Lauren Picker, “And Now, the Hard Part. That Sweet Little Thing Is about to Commandeer Your Life. Be Prepared.,” Newsweek 145, no. 17 (2005), https://ezproxy.student.twu.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mnh&AN=17848053&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
[3] Gary Smalley and Barbara Rosberg, “Putting Your Spouse before Your Kids,” n.d.,
[4] Eldemire, “3 Tips For Couples to Stay Connected After Baby.”
[5] Smalley and Rosberg, “Putting Your Spouse before Your Kids.”
[6] Picker, “And Now, the Hard Part. That Sweet Little Thing Is about to Commandeer Your Life. Be Prepared.”
[7] Eldemire, “3 Tips For Couples to Stay Connected After Baby.”
[8] Eldemire.
[9] Smalley and Rosberg, “Putting Your Spouse before Your Kids.”
[10] Smalley and Rosberg.