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Couples with small children often find themselves struggling to find time and energy for sex. Taking care of the kids is exhausting and resentments can build up if one partner takes on more of the parenting burden. But a recent study shows that sharing the childcare duties can lead to greater emotional connection and improve the sex lives of couples.
It is no secret that having an infant has an impact on a couple. But, the issue is not necessarily exhaustion and lack of time for each other. It is apparently tied to equity of workload in the child-rearing and simmering feelings if the balance is too far off.
The new research on the topic, presented at a meeting of the American Sociological Association, shows that how the responsibilities for caring for children are handled can have a significant impact on the quality of a couple’s relationship.
Researchers studied 487 families and how they handled responsibilities for dealing with the children. The parents were all straight couples, in which the female was younger than 45, from lower- or middle-income households with one or more youngsters living in the home. The couples were interviewed and given questionnaires to complete. (More than 600 were interviewed, but their comments were not included in the final results since one or more partners did not complete the paper questions.) The study did not look at who performed which tasks such as feeding, bathing or changing diapers on the children.
The study showed that parents who split the child-rearing duties down the middle have a less conflict as a couple, higher overall satisfaction, and a better quality sex life for both partners than those who are less egalitarian in handling the responsibilities for the kids. In homes where the woman handles more of the childcare, both the women and the men were less content.
It is when the men handled the greater childcare load that parental perception and satisfaction really differed between the partners. The researchers said men doing a greater share of childcare did not have the same impact.
Women report the highest satisfaction with their marriage and sex life when the men take on the majority of childcare, according to the research. However, men who taken on the majority of the childrearing indicated that they believed they had sex less frequently than men whose wives helped more.
One major finding in the research was that “the only childcare arrangement that appears really problematic for the quality of both a couple’s relationship and sex life is when the woman does most or all of the childcare,” according to Dr. Daniel Carlson, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University, who was the study’s leader. “What really drives all of this is if are you satisfied with your relationship,” Carlson added. “For a vast majority of people, and especially young adults, an egalitarian relationship is what they want, but that’s not to say that people who have more traditional divisions of labor will have a negative outcome.”
Carlson and his research team plan to conduct more in-depth looks into why those couples with more equal childcare responsibilities seem to have better relationships. “We are trying to understand what is it about sharing that couples view so positively,” Carlson added.
In the meantime, couples with small children – take heed and split the childcare duties fairly evenly. It can be satisfying in more ways than one.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Los Angeles Times: Sharing child care may lead to better sex, study finds
Daily Mail: Want a better marriage AND sex life? Get your husband to look after the kids, say scientists
BBC: Sharing childcare ‘improves sex lives’ of couples
Photo courtesy of Adam Selwood’s Flickr page – Creative Commons license