Children do not make for a happier marriage, according to a
study that challenges some assumptions about what makes
The research, involving almost 4500 participants in the UK,
found couples without children were more satisfied with their
relationships than couples with kids.
It also found same-sex partners were happier than
heterosexual couples, and unmarried couples with children
were happier than parents who had tied the knot.
Researchers from the UK's Open University asked participants
in an online survey to rate the quality of their
They found childless couples, both married and unmarried,
were happier with both their relationships and their partners
than couples with children.
Parents appeared to do less to maintain their relationships -
such as talking or going out together - than couples without
children. Heterosexual parents did worse than same-sex
Of all groups, heterosexual parents were least likely to be
there for each other, make time as a couple, pursue shared
interests, say 'I love you' and talk openly with one another.
Fathers were less positive about their relationships and
partners than childless men, but were as happy as childless
men overall. Mothers were also less positive than childless
women - but were significantly happier with their lives
overall than any other group.
In the bedroom, fathers were twice as likely as mothers to
list needs or expectations about sexual intimacy among the
things they liked least about their relationships.
But the study also revealed a silver lining - relatively
small gestures, such as saying thanks or making a cup of tea
for a partner, were highly valued in relationships.
Sharing chores, cooking meals, saying 'I love you' and
talking openly also rated highly.
Professor Garth Fletcher, who lectures on the psychology of
close relationships at Victoria University of Wellington,
said similar results about parents' relative relationship
happiness had been found in previous studies.
"There's nothing unusual about that finding, even though
people might find it a bit odd or unpalatable."
But the differences in happiness between couples with and
without children were not huge, he said.
"So there's no need to go panicking and say, 'Oh, we better
not have children, our relationship will go down the tubes'."
Relationship satisfaction tended to "ebb away" and passion
decreased the longer people lived together, which could be
exacerbated by having children, Professor Fletcher said.
Raising children was challenging and parents tended to have
less time to send love notes, share romantic dinners or have
a chat with their partner.
"They tend to get exhausted, so when they do have spare time,
they sit there watching television."
Children also brought stresses, including economic stress,
which could have a negative effect on relationships - but
that did not mean parents did not have fulfilling
Other studies had suggested that in the long-term, especially
later in life, people got added meaning from having
successfully raised children, Professor Fletcher said.
RELATIONSHIP HAPPINESS - SURVEY RESULTS
* Men and women are equally satisfied with their
relationships and life overall
* Middle aged men are less satisfied with their relationships
than younger and older men; younger women are more satisfied
than older women
* Childless men and women are more satisfied with their
relationships than parents of both genders
* Fathers are equally as satisfied with life overall as
childless men, and mothers are more satisfied than childless