Meta-Analysis: Marriage And Childbirth Make You Miserable (Unless You Read This)
    By Garth Sundem | March 15th 2012 04:38 PM | 6 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    After marriage your well-being dips and after divorce it rises; after childbirth, relationship satisfaction stays permanently below its pre-birth level -– so says a meta-analysis of 2,159 studies, published this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Sound dire? It is. But keep reading – the reasons for these dips and rises give us married-with-children guys hope.

    “It turns out that in the period before marriage, well-being goes way up,” says Maike Luhmann, PhD, postdoctoral researcher in psychology in the Cacioppo Lab at the University of Chicago, and lead author of the study (who I talked to in the spirit of my book, Brain Trust).

    And so the well-being dive after marriage is, in fact, a return to the level you were at before the pre-wedding bliss period, when bluebirds draped you in garlands and the forest creatures were your bestest friends. Similar is true of divorce: well-being is so terribly low in the period just before a divorce that after the event itself, the well-being boost brings you back to your baseline – where you were at before all the badness started.

    Instead of looking two months before and four months after, taken a year before marriage and a year after, the event has little effect on well-being.

    “Interestingly, though, an earlier study showed that some couples continue to drop through the well-being floor after marriage – they go lower than their baselines – and these couples are much more likely to get divorced,” Luhmann says.

    So what about childbirth?

    “We actually find a steeper decrease in well-being for men, suggesting that women’s well-being does not suffer as much from having children as men’s well-being,” says Luhmann. “But, of course, while this might be true for some men, it certainly wasn’t true for all – hopefully including my husband.”

    So how can a guy remain happy while married with kids? It helps to look at the chunk of happiness that takes a baby dive.

    “Relationship satisfaction after childbirth is permanently below its prebirth level. The long-term effects of childbirth on life satisfaction are also negative but not quite as severe,” writes Luhmann.

    But while relationship and life satisfaction go down, something called affective well-being goes up. This affective well-being is the balance of your pleasant and unpleasant experiences. After kids (believe it or not as you burn breakfast while trying to get matching socks on matching kids), most people have a more positive balance of good-vs-bad experiences after the birth of a child. The question for your overall well-being is whether these experiences can outweigh your decrease in relationship and life satisfaction.

    To know the answer, “One would have to know how people would weigh affective well-being and relationship and life satisfaction. For instance, does experiencing a one point gain in affective well-being feel the same as experiencing a one point drop in relationship and life satisfaction?” Luhmann says.

    Still, her words hold the key to married-with-children well-being: Be happy in the moment with your kids.

    By gathering powerful positive experiences with your kids, you can hope to outweigh potential losses in life and relationship satisfaction.


    I doubt it. I'm pretty sure there are more factors involved in this than simple perspective. Does that also account for the high levels of divorce, children out of wedlock, etc? No. Did this simplistic piece take you 5 minutes to write? It sure seems so.

    Also, your assumption is the rational nature of human beings. Which is a fairy tale, to say the least. There's a reason introspective psychology isn't really at the forefront of, well, anything.

    Also; meta-analysis as legitimate research is possible, but if this is all that was found, why even bother? "Look guys, I found tired old platitudes that I'm going to repeat, the joy." No wonder funding for research is hard to come by.

    I would bet it is the decrease in sex once a woman's energies are placed on the children. Fathers all over the world know about that, but this author does not!

    Oh please! I am so tired of men acting like the biggest issue for a bad relationship is that the woman doesn't want sex much. I know so many woman who want it and the man doesn't. More woman I know have men that don't want sex than men in that situation. And no, it has nothing to do with the woman's bodies or them not being open minded in bed.
    All the relationships I have seen in the past 40 years the ones that go bad after they have kids has been because the husband really doesn't know how to enjoy his own kids with the wife and he tends to just want to party his butt off like a teenager still. It looks like most men that wanted kids really just flat out don't and see the wife and kids after that as the ball and chain obligation that stands in his way of his childish worthless fun. If a woman looses intrest in sex it's probably because she doesn't feel loved anymore.

    Garth Sundem
    Thanks for your comments. I strongly encourage anyone interested in exploring this topic further to read the original study (linked above). I thought the author did a good job answering questions of methodology -- basically, this being a statistical meta-analysis, the point is that these gains and losses in wellbeing *exist*. It's for further scientists to provide the mechanism for *why*. As for the newness of the findings, I actually thought it was very interesting that wellbeing should go DOWN after marriage and UP after divorce.

    Garth Sundem, TED speaker, Wipeout loser and author of Brain Trust

    Yes, its love and the being wanted, thats the bliss!
    BDOA Adams, Axitronics
    This might be true and practically speaking it is possible. But it's up to the 2 persons involved on how they will handle their married life. There will always be at some phase that relationship will slipped down, so will partners let it slipped or will they standup and rebuild their relationship the way it used to be from the first day they've met. It might be not that magical anymore but perhaps they'd still giggle if they reminisce how they started as a couple and then be thankful for the fruit of their love their child.