Happy T(w)ogether, Thank You Very Much

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.

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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.

READ  On Friendship and Hardship

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.

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15 thoughts on “Happy T(w)ogether, Thank You Very Much

  1. Rachel Inbar

    I can definitely see where a couple who is not raising children could be happier, more free to pursue their dreams and more in tune with each other. What I always wonder is how/when they get past the fact that they just aren’t going to have children in order to be free to just enjoy their relationship and enjoy each other… I think that a premise of such an article (I didn’t read the article) could be that marriage exists as a framework in which children are born. As such, the couple is less important than the family (an extremely common mistake, unfortunately).

    I love seeing your pictures and definitely envy the peaceful, romantic times you and your partner have together :-)

  2. Nikkalynn

    Evaluated from an analytical perspective, the stats in the Huff Post piece are so worthless as to not even merit comment.

    After 3 intense and excruciating years on the infertility hamster wheel, the hubs and I elected to sit it out for awhile. We are still young enough to adopt or to pursue a donor egg, yet in the midst of our choice to take a break for awhile, we keep finding reasons not to go any further because our life is too good as it is .

    I have a burgeoning garden, am in a book club, work out, travel, write, paint, THINK. Hubby’s handicap has gone from 12 to 10 to 6. We enjoy “sleeping in” most weekends, and we are really really happy.

    So just the other day I commented to a friend, that infertility has been a blessing because it has allowed us to devote our energy toward becoming self-actualized as people. My friend paused and said she was so ‘proud of me’ because she could see how other people in our same situation might view it the exact opposite way. It actually had never occurred to me that folks would view being a parent as the only path toward self-actualization. How silly!

  3. Pamela

    Thanks, Rachel. It sometimes feels like I’m pushing a rock uphill to explain that a family of two is every bit a family unit.  We’re smaller, yes, but no less devoted to each other and our extended families.

  4. Pamela

    Totally agree, Nikkalynn. Self-actualization comes in many different forms. I’m glad you’re finding happiness living in the present — that’s a gift unto itself…

  5. Lucy

    I was in IVF treatments for 6 years and in these years I met lots of women in my country – online & in person who were struggling with infertility. Yes, infertility is definitely very hard. And it tests a marriage in many different ways. I have seen some marriages fall apart because of infertility struggles.

    But I am sure of one thing: if a marriage survives an infertility, it can also survive anything else.

    Infertility can either break a marriage. Or makes it unbreakable.

    I love being with my husband. And I love him. Yes, we do have a different life as planned, but it doesn’t mean it is less beautiful.

    And my husbands loved the quote “the strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell.”

    PS: I never read this blog to him, but I did this time since Slovenia is mentioned :)

    PPS: dear Pamela – it was lovely to meet you in person!!!

  6. bwsgirl

    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. == Well, count my husband and I in your same group, hon. We are much stronger after having gone through something so difficult AND having only each other to lean on for understanding. I was going to mention that study on happiness, so I’m glad you beat me to it. So, my marriage is rock solid — I’m as giddy as a teenager every time I hear my hubby come in the door — and childless couples are sometimes HAPPIER. So, since all of this has already been said, I’ll add only this original thought — directed to the author of that assinine article about childlessness = divorce. ‘NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH’.

  7. MLO

    ROFLMAO. Sorry, but the woman never had a basic course in psychology. At one point during my formative 20s I thought I wanted to be a counselor. Among the top 3 reasons for marriages to fail is having a child. These were studies done for decades – even at times when there was no medical intervention to speak of, and adoption was not that popular an option. (Non-familial adoption is more of a late 19th / early 20th century phenomenon.)

    Now, early marriage has always had a very high rate of divorce. Many folks find themselves divorcing after the children leave the nest.

    I quit reading the Huffington Post awhile back due to the awful research / fact-checking I have seen there in the past. I have found that my blood pressure goes way too high when I read their articles.

    I’m not surprised someone has tried to claim that childless couples are devoid of any happiness or love in their lives because of the reality that many folks think they want children, find themselves with children, and then truly wish they hadn’t done it. (This is more common than many will admit.)

    Those of us who have slogged our way through infertility have a much, much higher self-awareness than the normal couple. After all, how many men have had to suffer the slings and arrows of a woman taking lupron, et al.? I know that I am claiming insanity for that period in my life.

    I think the only other thing that can compare to the burden of infertility is something akin to cancer or another all-consuming disease / handicap. Those of us who have dealt with that have seen and dealt with our devils. And so have our spouses.

  8. happynenes

    I had the exact same thought as Christina! The woman doth protest too much.

    To heck with her. Clearly, she’s writing about something she knows nothing about. And if she had to go back as far as 1950 to find an evidence basis for her argument then she was trying too hard.

  9. Iris D

    I actually referred to this article in another blog, as well as in a message board as something therapeutic… Ok, NOT the article itself, but the overwhelming number of posts in response to the article that argued for perspective. What I read through was the resounding opinion/message by most responders that “there is more to life”!

  10. Oh wow, I am loving the comments to this post (which I loved too).

    I think it is notable that you highlighted this comment: “…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”

    That’s more a reflection on the people looking down on the childless couples than on the childless couples, don’t you think?

    And now off to look at your photos. We’re heading to that part of the world (well, not Slovenia but Croatia, Montenegro, Greece and Turkey in a few weeks – the joys of being childless – and I cannot wait!).

  11. PS. If you come to New Zealand and don’t look us up I’ll be very upset. It’s much closer than Slovenia, too!

  12. Pamela

    You can count on it, Mali!

  13. This article just made me so mad! After 6 years of infertility treatments, my husband and I have finally decided to adopt, but for those 6 years we were in that boat TOGETHER. Yes it was awful and stressful and it was a strain for both of us, but we are a team because of it. I would never wish my infertility on my worst enemy — really! — but it has shaped nearly every aspect of my marriage, and not all in bad ways. If we hadn’t had that time as just the two of us, I am certain that we wouldn’t have been ready to brave the pits of adoption!

  14. I read this some time ago & meant to come back & comment (here I am now, lol). This is so obviously cr@p. Infertility does take its toll, but for us, for you & Alex, & for many other couples in our situation, we know it can also bring you closer together & make you stronger. Children can be a wonderful thing in a marriage — but they’re not the ONLY thing.

  15. Elena

    This is a tricky one.
    Surely its wrong to say childlessness must lead to divorce.
    But there’s the other side of it. I’m one of those whose committed relationship broke due in the course of TTC/Fertility treatment. We are the silent sisters within the silent sorority. All those ideas for building a childless life/identity like “we are a familiy of two” “being childless allows me and hubby to… (fill in: spend time and money travelling, or whatever)” “going through this together has made us stronger” do NOT apply to us. We don’t fit in with the “childless couples” – we are just: single women (or men). That there is a grief and a strong wish inside of us, too, to be a couple with or without child, seems sometimes to be forgotten. Friends trend to advise us on how to find a new partner. But having wished/still wishing for a child makes that enormously complicated. For example as in my case where the Ex was the infertile one. But i’m now 39 years old. Will i find a new partner before it’s too late? If i find a new partner – will he want children? Right away – or only in a few years time, when it’s too late? Or even if i found someone soon who wanted to start a family – what if we then found out that 39 is too late already in my case?
    I would like to be regarded as a childless-not-by-choice-person with everything that implicates, even if i am also single. Not as a single person who – what? Just didn’t make it to found a family, even one “of two (and the dog/cats)”.

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