In the category of inflammatory headlines posed as a question here’s one from a self-described “journalist, mother, thinker” that begs a response: Are Childless Couples Headed Toward Divorce?
The short answer from my field research is an emphatic: Hell No!
The link to the provocative Huffington Post blog headline first came from a longtime pen pal who wrote me with this observation:
“[this] absurd article rambles and makes no particular point. Is it saying that more non-childed couples divorce than childed couples do BECAUSE they are childless or because, if they realize things aren’t working they don’t have to stay together ‘for the children’? Is it saying that childed couples are happier (or not) than unchilded couples? Is it saying that couples who ‘wait too long’ to have children tend to divorce because of infertility struggles?”
Next in my inbox was this assessment from Christina:
“I think this is just another Mom pumping up her world view again. I know so many people who got married just to have a baby, suffered terrible marriages — some divorced, some are still together in misery. I think it makes them feel better to imagine that childless couples are worse off, but we’re not. If you have to convince yourself that your lifestyle is the way to go, and have nothing better to do than broadcast social theories to this affect, ‘Methinks the lady doth protest too much.’ “
Those who have followed my story will know that my husband and I fit into the group of couples who pursued parenthood early and often with dogged determination (in other words, we are not — to use the term in this piece — “postponers”). We instead are part of the large and often silent population of couples who, despite not being “too old” and following repeated fertility treatment, found out that biology and science don’t always lead to successful pregnancy and delivery.
Did our infertility experience test our marriage? Damn right it did, but it also made our relationship stronger, not unlike this quote: “the strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell.”
Readers of the HuffPo piece would never arrive at the conclusion that couples who have weathered infertility — and don’t go on to parent — could have happy, fulfilled marriages. Rather the takeaway from this piece is that the majority of couples who face infertility trials part ways as a matter of course. Infertility + Marriage = Divorce.
Are there some marriages that falter in the wake of infertility? Yes, but it is not the sole reason why the relationship ended. To the contrary, I’ve seen couples who were unhappy before becoming parents have children as a way to glue together a relationship that was doomed to failure. In the end, they divorced despite having children together.
My experience tells me that life after infertility treatment purgatory can result in a deeper devotion. And I’m far from alone. The past few years, online and in person, I’ve come to know hundreds of loving couples around the world who are not raising children — and through thick and thin they are happy!
The past two weeks, in particular, traveling thousands of miles across three countries offered still more firsthand evidence that couples without children share a deep connection with each other. The common denominator of the couples joining my husband and me — hailing from the pragmatic metropolis of Stuttgart, Germany, the a medieval town in Slovenia — was a happy relationship marked by playfulness, romance and commitment.
Too often childless couples are held up as deficient, and this HuffPo piece only serves to reinforce that stereotype. There are many couples who elect early and decisively not to have children. But for those who experience infertility, society’s prejudice — that parenting is absolutely essential to be happy and for self-actualization — does nothing to ease the transition from attempting to have children to moving forward in life as a family of two.
A research paper, “Does Having Children Create Happiness?,” highlights several studies that reinforce the prejudice and stigma associated with childlessness:
“Couples without children have been looked down upon by their counterparts for
years. Childless couples are often seen as unfortunate and unhappy. Ali, L. 2008”
Less publicized, however, is the conclusion of the author’s paper:
“Children do not increase life satisfaction for their parents, and in fact serve to hamper parental happiness. While the positive implications regarding having children hold true, there exist positive implications for those who remain childless as well.”
Unlike in some relationships where the focus is squarely on the children — to the exclusion of all else — we families of two can focus on our mutual needs and be happy.