Complete Without Kids

Exploring all facets of childfree living.

The Secrets to Happiness for Childfree Couples

How not having kids can help your relationship.

For many, the ultimate expression of a loving relationship is taking the leap into parenthood. But not having kids could actually mean happier days ahead for you and your partner.

In my last blog, I mentioned a study published by Open University in November 2013 that revealed some intriguing findings about satisfaction in various kinds of relationships. Today, I want to look at what those results could mean for childfree couples.

 The title of the project was Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century. The researchers explored differences in satisfaction between couples with and without children and the reasons for these differences. Almost 5000 people responded to their online survey, giving a fascinating peek into how relationships work.

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Before reading further, ask yourself this: What do you think differentiates an enduring relationship from one that must be endured? The Open University researchers found that a huge contributor to couples’ happiness is simply relationship maintenance. This includes simple gestures such as making the time to say, “I love you,” to talk, and to do things together that both partners enjoy. In the study, parents report doing less relationship maintenance than couples without kids. In my book, Complete Without Kids, I cited time-management research that shows that it takes an average of eight hours a day to parent two children to the age of eighteen. That’s a lot of time that’s not available for maintaining your relationship.

A second factor that resulted in enduring relationships was feeling appreciated by one’s partner. This manifested in simple gestures of appreciation such as being thanked or recognized for doing a mundane task that keeps the household running smoothly: unloading the dishwasher or stopping by the store to pick up a carton of milk. Checking in with one another to touch base during the day was also top, as were small gestures like being brought a cup of tea (remember that this study took place in England!). Participants reported that small surprises felt as wonderful as something larger like flowers or a box of chocolate.

A third common thread among thriving couples was having things in common, such as faith, values, taste, opinions, interests, and goals; this contributed to the sense of being “best friends.”

The Open University study found that it wasn’t simply time management that interfered with parents having the happiest of unions. Mothers were twice as likely as fathers to say that their children were the most important people in their lives. Meanwhile, fathers, as well as childfree men and women, were more likely to identify their partners as most important.

Of course, childfree couples don’t have to decide who is top dog for them, but they are also less likely to stay together if they feel their lives are going in different directions. Childfree participants in the Open University study spoke in terms of their embedded lives, their shared experiences, viewing their partner as their “other half,” and sharing an intimate, private world with one another.

Take time today to evaluate how you’re nurturing your relationship. What did you do today to show that you appreciate your partner? What else can you do to help sustain your relationship? What might you do tomorrow? Remember, love is a verb!

Ellen Walker, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living By Choice Or By Chance.

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