When things aren’t going well in your marriage, don’t have a baby. This advice, which seems obvious to most of us, apparently bears repeating. Even though Janet Jackson’s relationship with billionaire Qatari businessman Wissam Al Mana was already on the rocks, she thought it was time to get knocked up.
According to The Post’s Stacy Brown she thought a baby would help their relationship, which was strained over her husband’s demands that Jackson dress more modestly and do a little less bumping and grinding on stage. Now, only three months after the baby’s birth, the couple has split.
It’s perfectly possible that Jackson knew that her biological clock was ticking and didn’t really care if Al Mana was going to be around for the long haul, but many couples do think that having a baby is the answer to marital problems. It is easy to see the temptation. Beyond the initial efforts of getting pregnant in the first place, ahem, women and many men enjoy the anticipation of a baby’s arrival. Talking about baby names, reminiscing about the arrival of older children, breaking the news to family, baby showers, “nesting” — these often bring joy to both partners.
Men also tend to become more protective of their pregnant wives and future children, bringing an aura of closeness to a relationship.
But then the moment arrives. And according to a 2009 study by Brian Doss of the University of Miami, babies put a big strain on marriages. Tracking the relationships of 218 couples over eight years, Doss and his colleagues found that the birth of the first baby was followed by more problems in communication, decreases in couples’ confidence that their relationship would last, and declines in their overall satisfaction with the marriage.
Which is really not surprising, folks. Having a baby is kind of an all-hands-on-deck experience. If you are not happy with the crew of your boat when the waters are calm, things aren’t going to get better when the boat starts sinking.
Even fairly happy marriages experience problems when babies come along. In her new book “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids,” Jancee Dunn describes her “dreamy” life before children. She and her husband, “would walk up and down the street and talk about names.”
“That was so much fun,” she told the Washington Post. “But we didn’t have the most basic conversations about who, after I went back to work, will take care of the baby when she gets sick. We hadn’t talked about: Is religion going to play a role, what roles are the grandparents going to have, what will we do on weekends, who will do what chores around the house?”
Once the first child arrives, things become much more stressful. The pattern is easy to see among celebrities. Blac Chyna and Robert Kardashian Jr. had a baby together in November and then broke up in December. Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick made it six months after the birth of a child before breaking up. Gwen Stefani had a baby with Gavin Rossdale in February 2014. They had filed for divorce by the summer of 2015. Drew Barrymore and Will Kopelman lasted two years after the birth of their daughter before announcing their split.
Maybe these couples were having babies in order to save their relationships, or perhaps a baby destroyed what was otherwise a perfectly stable marriage. A 2015 study found that the loss of personal happiness experienced by mothers and fathers in the first two years after a child was born was greater than the loss that came from divorce, the loss of a job or — amazingly — the death of a partner.
There are obvious reasons for this. The amount of sleep we get is deeply related to our happiness and there is little that compares with the sleep deprivation that comes from having an infant. But there are other factors as well. Brian Doss notes that “couples do tend to become more traditional in their division of labor (especially around child care) after the birth of the first baby.” And if one partner or the other is not happy with that arrangement it could lead to more tension in the marriage. Janet Jackson’s husband, it seems, wanted her to cut back on her touring and take a less public position even before the baby arrived. After the baby came, Al Mana insisted the family live according to strict Muslim custom, which prevents a new mom from even being seen in public while nursing the baby, according to The Post’s Brown.
It used to be, of course, that having a baby together almost guaranteed a couple would stay together. (It still doesn’t look right for a man to leave a woman while she’s pregnant.) Indeed, many marriages were made just for the purposes of ensuring a child was legitimate. But while having a baby today might seem like a good way to keep things going, it’s not a good plan in the long run.
As Scott Stanley, a marriage researcher at the University of Denver, notes, “A baby bump is no longer an automatic staying bump.”