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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Do Married Parents Have Better Relationship Quality than Unmarried Parents?

For new parents, the birth of a child can bring a lot of new stress. In the transition from two people becoming three, adjustments need to be made in routines, interactions, and day-to-day activities. This can cause an increase in conflict between new parents and a decline in overall relationship satisfaction.

Today, about 40 percent of children are born to unwed mothers, most of who are either cohabitating or in a romantic relationship. But little is known about the effects of childbirth and childrearing on the relationships of unmarried women. The Institute for Family Studies reported on a study recent published in Social Science Research that compared the relationship quality between married and unmarried parents. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, the study looked at data from 5,000 urban births over a period of ten years, adjusting for certain factors including social, economic, and health differences between married and unmarried couples.

The report suggests that married couples have better relationship quality after the birth of a child than unmarried couples. Those couples who were married at the time of the child’s birth had a smaller decline in relationship quality during the first nine years of parenting than couples who were dating or cohabitating at the time of their child’s birth.

The study further differentiated data between couples who were married throughout the study and those who were unmarried but “stably partnered” over the years. The difference between these two groups was not as significant as compared to the data between married and unstable, unmarried parents. Simply being married itself, without an understanding of the promise to love the other for a lifetime, will not work; unsurprisingly, marriage needs committed partners and a stable relationship to “protect” against a decline in relationship quality.

However, getting married after having a child may improve couple relationship quality. Unmarried couples who already have a stable, positive relationship may be more likely to marry during this time; additionally, marriage itself may strengthen the relationship. Marriage provides a more stable, defined relationship that reduces the likelihood of a break up and increases future security.

The study showed that couples who got married after the birth of a child reported higher quality relationships than those who did not get married. Even with a relationship quality decline over time, the “lift” from the marriage provided a significant increase in relationship quality compared with the unmarried couples.

Overall, couples married at the time of the birth of a child experienced smaller declines in relationship quality than unmarried couples. The union of man and woman in marriage provides the healthiest and most stable foundation for a family. For those working in ministry with married couples and families, it is good to consider this data and take steps to provide marriage-strengthening programs and resources.