Note: This will be the last column for quite a while on this blog. We are going on hiatus to evaluate our directions in life (if such a thing is realistic). Writing Enough of Us and this blog has been a many-years-long project for us. We hope it will promote a dialogue on an issue that has too long been predominantly confined to intimate conversations and unspoken judgments. We thank everyone who has followed and supported www.enoughof.us.
A study reported in London’s Daily Mail bears this not-so-surprising-to-us headline: “Childless couples ‘have the happiest marriages.’” A research study entitled “Enduring Love?” conducted by Britain’s Open University determined that—in the U.K. at least—people without children are more satisfied with their relationships and more likely to feel valued by their partner. They are also more likely to be happily married.
The study involved questioning more than 5,000 people across a range of ages, statuses, and sexual orientations. “For both men and women, those who did not have children ranked the quality of their relationship more highly than those who did.”
The “childless” include the childfree (those who choose not to have kids) and those without kids who may want them. Overall, childless couples worked more than parents at maintaining the quality of their partnerships. Such efforts include “going out” together and talking to each other.
We try to be as fair as we can on this blog, so we won’t hide the fact that, “Mothers were happier overall than any other group, while childless women were the least happy. By contrast, men with children emerged slightly less happy than those without.”
Being parents also influenced levels of intimacy. Fathers were twice as likely to cite a lack of sexual intimacy as the biggest downfall of their relationships, while mothers reported that they often want to have sex less than their partners do. We’re not sure if these contrasting emotions were felt by members of the same couple, in which case “too much” for one would be “not enough” for the other. If that is the case … well … heaven help them.
Evidence indicates that many couples with kids persist in their marriages primarily for the sake of their kids. Childless and childfree couples as a group have a significantly higher divorce rate than those with kids, which on its face appears to be contradictory. But when you consider that many parent couples stay together because of the potentially devastating consequences for their kids, it makes sense that parents “stick it out” longer.
As reported in the Huffington Post, of those interviewed, mothers reported being happier with life than any other group, and childless women reported being the least happy.
The study indicates that “couples need to keep investing in their relationships. It’s reassuring to know, especially in these tough economic times, that it’s the small gestures of appreciation and affection, rather than the big romantic displays that really make the difference,” said Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of the relationship support organization Relate, which contributed to the study.
For our book Enough of Us, we interviewed comedian Jay Leno, a longtime acquaintance and colleague of Ellis’s. Jay and his wife Mavis decided that having children was not compatible with his show business lifestyle, among other determinants. Instead, they have maintained a happy and steady marriage for 33 years, sans offspring. The Lenos are typical of many people who have a clear vision about what their marital partnership should consist of, including whether to change their life path for keeps.
The great actor and notorious eccentric (in the best possible way) Katherine Hepburn, put her choice thus: “I had such a wonderful upbringing that I had a very high standard of how a mother and father should behave. I couldn’t be that way and carry on a movie career.”
Lori Buckley is a sex therapist in Pasadena, Calif. As reported in WebMD, she observes that the couples she sees have no regrets about living a childfree life. “They might have curiosity, wondering ‘what if.’ But once you’ve made a conscious decision and you have clarity about your choices, then chances of regret go way down.”
Over the years, one of the soundest pieces of advice we have repeatedly come across is that couples need to deal with the “will we or won’t we” question of parenting before committing to a “permanent” relationship. Doing so is no guarantee of success, but it does improve the odds.
And here is a bit of political history. James Madison was the fourth president of the United States. He is regarded as the father of the U.S. Constitution. He was married to Dolley Payne Madison, who had two sons by a previous marriage, the youngest of whom died at three months of age on the same day as Dolley’s husband.
James and Dolley never produced a child
together. The upshot of this story is: You may not father a child but you can still father a democracy.