Can a Marriage Thrive without Kids?
I love my husband truly, madly and deeply. I love our relationship with practically every fiber of my being. I love calling him my husband. I love that he has worn his wedding ring for the past 13 years 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I love how fiercely devoted he is to our marriage and to the life we've created. I also know this-- having kids has created a bond between us that is hard to articulate. Having kids has united us in this shared, joint lifelong venture. So much of what we do; our decisions, our goals, what we hope for is based on creating a future for these two little souls that our love ultimately brought into this world. Our shared love for them has strengthened the love we have for one another. I know that when I look at my husband doing homework with our daughter- or helping our son practice on the piano my love for him seems to blossom. And when I look at my kids, and they mimic one of my husband's mannerisms, once again I see our love reflected in them, and it just reintensifies the love I feel for him.
I also know this, had we not had kids over the course of our 13 year marriage there are many moments when, had it just been the two of us, I think it might have been over. If it was just the two of us I am not sure I would've felt this urge to keep fighting for our relationship and to weather the proverbial storms and struggles we faced both as a couple and as individuals. For me kids are a life game changer-- and while I would never stay in my marriage if I felt it was no longer a loving and supportive relationship, I know that having my kids keeps me grounded and forces me to work on it so that I can provide them with a two parent home that is their soft place to fall. So I've always wondered how and what keeps couples who don't have kids, married. What is the glue that sustains married couples when that common goal of raising children and providing a home for them is not there?
Apparently marriage sans kids can not only survive, but it can and does thrive!
According to David Klow LMFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist in Chicago www.davidklow.com and an instructor at Northwestern University who works with couples both with and without kids and hears the pluses and minuses of each, our brains are hard wired to want to procreate. It's deeply embedded within us to want to have children and our bodies often respond unconsciously to desiring offspring. Having children can satisfy this longing and bring untold joy into people's lives. It gives them tremendous meaning and undying love. Yet it also can consume a marriage.
All that being said, Mr. Klow notes that life without children allows for more time for the couple and for exploring various aspects of life without kids. Though there is a mourning component and a running against that innate hard wiring to procreate, life without children expands people's lives outside of the domestic paradigm. Though raising a family brings people great meaning and joy, it may also lock them into a prescribed lifestyle and keep them from exploring various other aspects of themselves. Though a couple without children may feel lost and that they do not belong at first, it may also open up a myriad of possibilities of who they can become as a couple. Melissa Dowler of Long Haul Films who quite eloquently sums up why not wanting to have kids does not make her an unwomanly and callous bitch in this post, believes not having kids has given her and her husband a sense of freedom and open possibility that they both really value.
"I met my husband while I was living and working in London and we got married when I was 29 and he was 28," says Dowler. "I have always been career focused and assumed the desire for children would kick in at some point. A year after our wedding, we moved back to my native Boston, Massachusetts and decided to buy a house in the suburbs with three bedrooms-- enough to fill up with a family. The only problem- that urge to have kids wasn't kicking in. I struggled with my feelings for quite some time-- feeling like I was abnormal, feeling guilty, feeling pressure and wondering if I should just "bite the bullet" and have kids even though I wasn't feeling like it was the right choice for me (if you're thinking about having kids as "biting the bullet" that's probably a sign you're not ready for motherhood!). My husband was supportive, but I suspected deep down he was disappointed. This was a confusing time in my life and in our young marriage, and it eventually inspired us to take action."
-Find a shared goal
Dowler and her husband channeled their energy not in the form of starting a family, but in the form of starting a creative project together called The Long Haul Project, and it's a multimedia exploration of what marriage means today. They have a blog and are making a documentary film in which they interview married couples from different backgrounds and cities about their marriage; what makes it work, how it's unique, the struggles they have faced and overcome together. During the process so far, they've spoken with many married couples who have chosen not have children, all of whom fully believe that they can have a rich, rewarding marriage without kids.
-Redefine what family means to you
The process of working on this project allowed me to let myself off the hook for not wanting to have children and realizing that I could define my marriage and my own little family (including a few furry children) in a different way, notes Dowler. It led my husband, Tom, and I to make major changes in our marriage, including renting the house in the suburbs (which we were never going to fill) to another family and getting a loft in the city that felt much more in step with who we are as a couple. For me, marriage is about having a true partner who I can work with and who challenges me to do new things and to grow creatively. My husband and I decided, in addition to the Long Haul Project, to launch a video production business together in 2010. It has given us a focus, common goals and is something that holds us together-- much like having children does for many couples. I believe that married couples need a shared vision in life and that raising a family can really provide that.
-Create a shared vision
For us, when we decided that having children wasn't in the cards, we knew it was important to establish a shared vision of what we wanted the future of our marriage to look like and ways we could evolve together that might not be possible if we had started a family, says Dowler. We have taken some exciting risks in the past couple of years since we decided not to have children, such as renting out our house and leaving our secure, full-time jobs to launch our own business. We've traveled extensively and spent a huge number of hours working on our relationship and carving out high-quality time for each other. I'm not sure we would have taken the risks we've taken or spent the quality time that we've spent if we decided to have children.
Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill, Ed.S., LMFT a Marriage & Family Psychotherapist/Author who has worked with these kinds of couples over the years echoes Dowler's statements.
"Married couples without kids can definitely survive but they need some alternate (from kids) very strong joint purpose in their lives together," says O'Neill. "I've seen that be everything from a start-up consulting business that was their baby that grew and grew to a belief that they needed and had found their soul mate and couldn't live without the person."
What do you think, what's the secret to a successful marriage sans kids?