The Three-Year Ditch: Why Couples With Kids Are Breaking Up Earlier Than Ever

divorce and childrenHere’s some news that will either freak you out or make you feel less alone (or maybe both): Couples today are four times as likely to break up after just three years rather than seven. In other words, the traditional seven-year itch has dwindled down to a measly three. The number one cause of breakups? Children. Yup, turns out your little bundle of joy is putting the greatest strain on your relationship. Or so is the case for a vast majority of moms who took part in a survey by British parenting site Netmums.

Researchers surveyed 1500 people to find out about their relationships and how they’re affected by the pressures of modern parenting. More than 40% of respondents said that having children has driven them apart (compared with 33% who said children have actually brought them closer together).

From my own experience and that of my friends, I see it as a combination of the two: on the one hand, we sit and marvel at these little beings we’ve created and, well, if that doesn’t bond a couple then I don’t know what will. On the other hand, parenting is a lot of work and often requires the patience of a saint. It’s trying stuff, and so many couples I know become more like business partners than anything else (which sucks). So I can see both sides here. Nonetheless, the fact remains that many couples are splitting up because of the stresses of parenthood – and according to this latest study, they’re certainly not riding out the storm.

Not surprisingly, almost 80% said their relationship suffered as a result of exhaustion caused by caring for kids. Other causes include money worries or debt, as well as a lack of time together sans kids. Meanwhile, half admit that the spark seems to have left their relationship and 46% say that the lack of sex post-delivery created difficulties.

Another big factor is that many couples are meeting later in life and then having children right away, but they haven’t spent time getting to know each other. In fact, one in 20 couples surveyed said they were expecting a baby within three months of getting together and 15% within a year.

“Relationships are tough at the best of times, but add in young children, lack of time, work and money worries and it’s little surprise couples are splitting up earlier than ever before,” said Netmums founder Siobhan Freegar. “There is unprecedented pressure on women to be the perfect wife, mother and career woman while men are feeling more and more unsure of their role.”

What do you think? Are we living in an age of instant gratification? Are our expectations too high? Or are the pressures of modern life – and parenting – tearing us apart?

(Photo: wavebreakmedia ltd/Shutterstock)

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  • Cee

    If you read mom blogs or STFU parents all over you will understand why people break up three years after having children. Mothers have completely gone apeshit and have lost a lot of themselves to terms like crunchy mom, helicopter parent, gifted children, co sleeping til they’re friggin teenagers and the like. It is this child centered life that is causing this rift. There was a book written by an episcopalian preacher (I’m not at all religious by the way) that talks about how new parents lose themselves to the role of parents and forget to be husband and wife. Mothers vent their frustrations with their kids, avoid being alone with their husbands to the point where they have the children in bed to avoid being alone even THERE. I would run out of that type of marriage too.

  • Lastango

    The research on this I’ve read before indicates that the fundamental problem when young couples have troubled relationships is typically money. The other problems (like the stress of raising kids) seem much worse when money is short, and add to the misery.

    Apparently, a lot of young couples marry because they’re having fun together. His friends, her friends, family nearby, great weekends… it’s all a gas. Then they get married, and for a while nothing much changes. Then something happens, and the money gets tight. Now the fun has stopped — and if that’s all there was, then there’s nothing else to hold them together. Working through the tough spots and accepting responsibility takes character, and for too many people (especially those who have been floating around a campus for four years enjoying life), character is in short supply.

  • Kel

    “I love my husband more than my children.” (Ayelet Waldman)

    I remember thinking “wha…??” when I read that (and I didn’t even have children then!) and now I get it. I’m of the belief that marriages have to be nurtured, like any other relationship, and even something as important as your own children shouldn’t take over–especially since love my child as I do and cherish my child I will for the rest of my life, I am ultimately the 18-year-custodian. Children grow up and move on and (hopefully) have lifelong love affairs of their own.

  • LiteBrite

    For me lately it’s the latter (the pressures of modern life). Most days I don’t even sit down until at least 9:30 p.m. and by that time I don’t want to engage in conversation (or anything else) with the husband. I just want to relax for that brief time before I go to bed.

    However, we do still love each other very much. Hell, I’d even say we’re IN love with each other. It’s just all the other crap that gets in the way right now. We are trying to work on that (I agree with Kel: marriages need to be nurtured), but it’s been slow-going. I can see some couples letting everything get in the way to a point where a husband and wife realizes after a couple of years with kids that they don’t even know each other anymore. The longer you let it go, the worse it gets, I think.

    • Jen

      My husband and I had this issue a few years ago and it was becoming a major stressor on our relationship (and we weren’t even married then). We picked one night a week that was “our night” and one night a week that was “alone night” and we knew that on “our night” we were going to shut the tv, close the computers and simply be with each other whether that meant a glass of wine and a nice long conversation or a rousing game of Uno. “Alone night” was the night when we could each do whatever we wanted and never had enough free time to do without needing to worry about the other person. It was great because my husband could play video games or work on a project without worrying that I was off stewing somewhere since I was also doing my own thing.

      It really helped us and now we don’t even need to set specific days for this stuff anymore. Instead, we have gotten to the point where we are back to genuinely enjoying each other and wanting to have those long talks and silly board game nights AND to the point where we both feel comfortable enough to tell the other when we just need our personal space to decompress and neither of us gets upset or hurt.

  • Narodnik

    1. One person working in the family, usually the father, is just not making enough money for a familty to survive. That didn’t used to be the case; under FDR there was the Family Wage. 2. Couples don’t tend to live in extended family situations anymore. They used to and the home was enriched by this. 3. A parent is now required to supervise a “child” for way too many years, when in the past, a kid 8 years old was old enough to babysit for a baby. 4. Offspring are babied way too long and it is the law; this makes it impossible to have a life and let the kids just go outside and play on their own. Children didn’t used to be a burden before things changed. Today, they definitely are a burden.

  • Ceunei

    I think people take on too many things at once. In addition, families choose to bypass nature and reject breastfeeding (which has its rewards sexually), and, the family bed (which does not interfere with the sex life unless the couple lets it). Most people have also generated bills far beyond what one income can pay, and, choose to afford daycare over a Stay At Home Parent. Again, bypassing the natural rewards of parenting one’s very own child (which is very hard work…very very hard physically and mentally and requires stamina and perseverence and also the ability to know when one has had enough and NEEDS to ask one’s partner (if present) for help).
    In many cases, people get together, for a time, after the unplanned unwanted until the pregnancy test comes back positive baby…and…that just isn’t a good way to begin a relationship. Two people too selfish to use birth control expect to stay together?

    Additionally, the culture I grew up in does not value the job of those who parent. Teachers and caregivers, if not unionized…and who really wants unions, these days, they have become about as useful as the Corporate Citizens… are underpaid. I am the Stay At Home Parent, for a time, but, I’ve taken an awful big fall down the social ladder…other women and men who choose to be the Stay At Home Parent often discuss their job in quiet and ashamed voices.
    So…I don’t have answers… But I am a Stay At Home Parent for only a short time longer. And, in the four years I’ve been home, I’ve worked harder and longer than I’ve ever worked…and I came off of some pretty serious heavy duty manual labor which much of baby raising is…and learned much more about humans than the entire two decades I spent in paid work. And, I can tell everyone, the physical work I spent putting garbage and recycle in a truck on a 45-hour route for a year is equal to the physical work I put in raising my very own planned and wanted child from infancy until about age 4…lots of lifting… I wished for a job that would use all my skills, and, I got it as the primary parent. Next time I make a wish like that, I’ll be sure to wish for the job to come along with a living wage, too.

    I think we need to remove tax incentives for having children…hopefully…that will make more people think before they dive in for that unprotected two minutes of bliss…at least for the dude…

    • RW

      Just for the record, unionized teachers are underpaid, too. :(

  • Chris

    That’s why the alternative- being CHILDFREE is absolutely the greatest thing in the world…..People- you have a choice- you don’t HAVE to have kids

    • ChineseGoddess

      That’s so true. Way too many people have allowed society to brainwash them into believing they have to have kids. If you don’t want them, don’t have them. You have to listen to what your gut tells you.

    • darion d’anjou

      i don’t think society’s brainwashing anybody. i think people get into the relationship, and then they want children. often they even want the children before they’re even in the relationship. society has little to do with this. people just know it’s a major life thing, and they don’t want to miss that chance. it’s a biological thing too, to want children, and more often than not, they just want them. the biological clock is much stronger than the societal clock.

    • ChineseGoddess

      Society has indeed brainwashed women into believing they must have kids. Not everyone wants kids, so the “biological” aspect is bullshit. People are pressured by their parents when they get married to have kids. That is societal pressure. If more people were honest with themselves about not wanting kids and following through with that, there would be a lot less abused and neglected kids. Too many women cave into this societal pressure to have kids and that’s why we have so many kids with psychological issues.

    • darion d’anjou

      The biological argument is not bull. Surveys say that %18 of
      women in the United States do not want to have children, while 82% do. That’s the majorityof women’s bodies and minds telling them that they want to have children.

      You can’t say that brainwashing is enough to make more than 8 out of 10 want to have them.

      I think we agree that there is heavy family and social pressure
      for women to have children, but why attempt to discount the power of biology? It’s almost as if you want to discount the fact the female reproductive system and it’s related hormonal cycles throughout life even exist.

      Biology doesn’t say that everyone will follow a certain path, but it does dictate that most will. For example biology dictates that children will hit puberty in their early teens, and part and parcel with that, they automatically, often almost instantly become highly interested in the opposite sex. A minority of people are gay, and for them they will be attracted to the same sex. But sexual attraction, whatever your preference, is primarily a biological thing with social flavors peppered on top, and it’s like a computer switch that gets turned on – for the overwhelming majority of us – based on biology, in our teens. Therefore our inner biology drives our external actions and desires, while society and culture influence the nuances of how. this is the case – for most people – in all things in our lives. Biology is the reason MOST relationships tend to be one on one. Biology is the reason MOST like to be around other people and socialize. Where you go out, what you do, and who you do it with, are the nuances added by the individual, but few can escape our biology, which tells us point blank: go find others to be around. If we don’t we are usually unhappy, and societal pressure will kick in to attempt to force the loner minority to be around other people. but it starts with the natural biology, that dictates that we are social.

      it’s the same with women wanting to be mothers. few people ultimately have kids just because of societal or family pressure as the primary motivator. if anything they are experiencing their own internal pressure, and external pressure probably “adds” maybe 5% to that, or more for some, but it’s no way the main reason any woman undertakes having children. Clearly someone who is in the minority 18% and doesn’t want to have children is going to experience pressure from the other 82%, that’s natural. But that pressure becoming the
      deciding factor, and making them switch? Doubt it, in most cases…

      To say the 82% only want children because everyone’s telling them they want them… you’re completely invalidating
      the legitimacy of most of these women wanting children, just because they actually want them.

    • ChineseGoddess

      Some of the 82% of women have allowed themselves to be brainwashed. If they were completely honest with themselves, that figure would be a lot lower. There are some women who genuinely want to be mothers, but to say that as many as 82% feel this way, it is extremely hard to believe. Most women feel pressure from their peers, mothers and in-laws and society to become mothers. American media tries to make women believe they are not real women unless they have children. We live in a kid-centric nation where they pound into our heads this propaganda. As I said, if so many women really wanted to be mothers, then the abuse rate would so much lower.

    • Sydney Chandler

      That’s SO not true. There are many people, that I know personally, who knew they didn’t want children but got pressure from family and friends to conform. Now the kids are here and they feel trapped and resentful. Don’t say that people always want children and there’s no pressure and brainwashing, it is. I’ve been married for 22 years and my husband and I decided to be child-free and we love it. We’re not kid people, though we love my nieces and god-daughter, it’s just not for us. Many people just don’t tell everyone what’s really going on their heads because it’s still somewhat taboo and controversial not to really want children. I’ve never cared about a biological or societal clock because this is my life and not anyone else’s to live. And my husband is the same way.

  • Kohoutek

    No surprise, considering what these insane “supermommies” are like to work with. At least, being childfree, I can leave work, go home, and have a beer away from these shrews.

    • darion d’anjou

      when i was in high school, there were irritating people i didn’t want to be around. in college, same thing, irritating people. in my twenties, working, around other childless twenty somethings, there were always those that were irritating, and i couldn’t wait to get off, get away from them, and relax with a beer and myself, or normal people. guess what? none of these people had children! now i’m forty, and i work with irritating moms and dads as well as cool ones.

      the common denominator? it’s the people, not the fact that they have kids… people are irritating regardless.

  • Dinesh Ghale

    Why people married and having a kid then breakup? Specially who work outside the country! Falling love then married,when have a kid then breakup?

  • darion d’anjou

    to give this article context, i’d love to see the stats on relationships where there are no children. are these childless relationships lasting 3+ years more often than relationships with children?

    • Sydney Chandler

      Married 22 years and child-free by choice and my husband and I haven’t regretted it one bit. But I know couples who have broken up with children and right after having them. The myth that children can repair an already frayed marriage is BS. And though children are a joy, children can cause a strain on a relationship and sometimes that pressure is just too much. I think some people pin too much of their hopes on a little kid and that’s not fair. I also think people need to be real with themselves and honest about what they want. And if children isn’t something a person really wants, then they need to say it and not wait until after a kid gets here to become resentful. I know someone right now who is exactly like this and it’s obvious to everyone that it’s because of the child.

  • Ellie

    Women: Don’t have kids until you have a job that can support them. Otherwise you get trapped in the stay-at-home situation. This is not the 1950ies. 1 year looking after the children as your full time job is enough. Then get back to meaningful work or part time work. Get your partner to do his share of the childcare and sacrifice some of his career. Why shouldn’t he? Why can’t we mix and match? It is the only way it’s going to work for a lot of us. Some women are happy with staying at home – and respect to them. But most of us these days want a job and financial independence, as well as acknowledgement for effort spent outside the home. Nothing wrong with that, except it doesn’t fit with the old style task share where the man goes to work and the woman stays at home. Hence resentment and split-ups. Don’t have a kid with a man who doesn’t want to sacrifice some of his work hours to look after the child. If you both share tasks you both have understanding for each other’s situation.Us humans are resourceful and flexible, capable of multitasking: Both genders. Don’t let the propaganda make you think men can’t do child care. Close relationship between man and child, balance in work-home relationships. We can do it!

  • andy

    I remember when my wife was about 8 months pregnant (we’d been together for 4 years, had a great relationship, fun, exciting, very loving) and we were in a store when this woman came up to my wife and commented on how it looked like she was about to give birth. They had a quick conversation and at the end of it, as she was leaving she said “just make sure you don’t forget about Dad!” and when my wife chuckled, the woman got very serious and said it again.
    This comment caught me way off guard, suddenly struck fear in my heart, and seared itself into my brain to the point that now 7 years later I can remember the moment in infinite detail, more so than any other memory, and I’ve had some pretty memorable experiences. For some reason the notion that having a child could actually ruin our fantastic relationship had never occurred to me and in that moment, I realized how very real that possibility could be. My recent life flashed before my eyes and I realized a shift in relationship behaviour had already started, and sure enough when our son was born, the relationship switch turned off for her and the Mom switch turned on and “we” were officially de-prioritized to somewhere between taking out the garbage and doing the laundry.
    Over the last seven years I’ve done everything to get that spark back, read every book, tried every trick, method, therapy, whatever I could come across to turn that switch back on, and/or make her see the light, but to no avail. I’m not saying our child destroyed our relationship, or that I regret having a child, not in a million years, but being a “Mom” definitely changed my partner for the worse. She believes she’s putting the needs of our child first, but fails to see that without a strong loving environment for our child to grow up in, she’s denying him the most important thing of all.
    I’ve seen the same thing happen to numerous friends too. Their wives arrive at this belief that with a child in the picture, the relationship is locked together and unbreakable, so therefore doesn’t need the daily maintenance that a child-less relationship gets without even thinking about it. Granted having a child requires a lot more attention out of your day, and the relationship maintenance stuff therefore doesn’t come as freely, naturally and without thought as it once did, but the relationship is also now much more important so doesn’t it therefore deserve a bit more work?
    I now find myself looking at the end of our relationship, having done everything I can think of to revive what once was, it’s clear to me now that what is now, will always be and while I still love my wife, the day-to-day torture of having her just out of reach, and her persistent disinterest in what was once so incredible, is just too much to bear. The effect it is now having on my own personality, the negative feelings and resentment, I can’t help but feel toward the whole situation, have reached a point where I believe the negative impact on my son of us staying together outweighs the impact of us splitting up.
    So, if you’re a woman and want to have kids, please do, just “don’t forget about Dad!”. It will be the best thing you will ever do for your kids.

  • EyeK

    I’m a new father and my daughters mother decided to end the relationship. Our daughter is only 5 months old And I am torn because I wanted a family and did not want to have a child and not continue to be with the mother. You often times hear of men leaving, but what about the man that gets left in this situation. The man that just wants to be a father and keep his family together. The man that does not cheat and keeps committed to his lady and children. I can’t believe this is a trend.

  • sick of it

    I don’t know what men you know that are becoming unsure of there role but it is not anybody i know. The only issues i see is that everyone is becoming more and more selfish and less trusting everyday and if people have a “i can do it all myself” attitude them of course your gonna push eachnother away. What ever happened to codependancy in a relationship.It is also impossible to have a lasting relatioship when alot of modern mothers seem to think they need to spend every waking second with there kid, that babysitters are not needed because aparently time away from your kids makes you a bad parent and alone time with your spouse doesnt matter now that you have kids.