The family unit is society's fundamental unit - 95 percentage of US citizens marry by age 55. A marriage breakdown is one of the most stressful life events possible, yet more than one in three will experience the trauma of divorce. Not surprisingly, the dynamics of relationships are increasingly the focus of ever more research. The University of Denver Center for Marital and Family Studies in particular is constantly shedding new light on the institution of marriage with recent research findings establishing that the quality of the relationship with parents-in-law is directly connected to marital satisfaction, and more recently, that 90 percent of couples experience a decrease in marital satisfaction once their first child is born. A new study from the centre looking at divorce rates before and after cities got Major League Baseball teams is fascinating in its implications. The study showed that cities with major league baseball teams had a 28 percent lower divorce rate than cities that wanted major league baseball teams. Can marital harmony really be this simple?
For example, in 1990, a year before Denver was awarded a major league baseball franchise, the city’s divorce rate stood at six divorces per 1,000 people. Ten years later, and seven years after the Colorado Rockies played their first game, the divorce rate had declined 20 percent to 4.2 divorces per 1,000 people. In contrast, the overall U.S. divorce rate dropped 15 percent. University of Denver (DU) director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies, psychology professor Howard Markman also studied divorce rates in other cities that welcomed a major league team and found a 30 percent decline in divorces in Phoenix, a 30 percent drop in Miami and a 17 percent drop in Tampa Bay area. While there could be many explanations for this significant difference, Markman stresses the importance of fun and friendship in a healthy marriage. Going to baseball games is one way couples can have fun together and talk as friends.
“Going to a baseball game and not talking about relationship issues, but rather having fun and talking as friends is one of the ways to protect and preserve love,” Markman says.
The research related to children adding problems and stress to a marriage was conducted over eight years and involved 218 couples, and found that ninety percent of the couples experienced a decrease in marital satisfaction once the first child was born. “Couples who do not have children also show diminished marital quality over time,” says Scott Stanley, research professor of psychology at DU. “However, having a baby accelerates the deterioration, especially seen during periods of adjustment right after the birth of a child.” The research recently appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and was funded by a grant to the University of Denver from the National Institutes of Health. The paper was authored by Brian Doss, assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M along with the team of researchers from the University of Denver, including, psychology professor Howard Markman, senior researcher Galena Rhoades and Stanley. The research also showed couples who lived together before marriage experienced more problems after birth than those who lived separately before marriage, as did those whose parents fought or divorced.
However, some couples said their relationships were stronger post-birth. Couples who had been married longer, or who had higher incomes, seemed to have fewer marital problems related to having a baby than those with lower incomes or who had been married for a shorter period of time.
Stanley cautions against concluding that children damage overall happiness in life. “There are different types of happiness in life and that while some luster may be off marital happiness for at least a time during this period of life, there is a whole dimension of family happiness and contentment based on the family that couples are building. This type of happiness can be powerful and positive but it has not been the focus of research,” Stanley says.