Why couples are more likely to split after a second child

Relationship satisfaction can take a hit after having a baby, but do things get worse if you have a second child? This is what you need to know about second child divorce syndrome.

Adjusting to parenthood can take a toll on any couple’s relationship, but especially when you have more than one child.

The birth of a second child (and subsequent children) can increase the financial, emotional and logistical strain on a relationship, particularly if a couple is not well prepared to handle these pressures together.

But, since the mid 1990s, the most common family size in Australia has been two children – so, does having a second child increase the risk that your relationship won’t survive?

And what can you do to dial down the pressure?

What is second child divorce syndrome?

While a recent study suggests relationships are most rocky after having baby No.1, family lawyer Cassandra Kalpaxis says she’s seen first-hand how having a second child can present unique challenges.

“When you have a second child, your relationship dynamic changes even more as life becomes more expensive, the workload doubles, and children become the priority,” Cassandra says.

“You’re not just trying to manage your own needs as parents, but (also) the needs of your firstborn and then your second child – it can become stressful and complicated, and the connection between the partners can become strained.”

Research shows this effect may be even stronger when there’s less of a gap between children.

But take heart: If your relationship is feeling the strain after having a second child – or your first or third – there are things you can do to help dial down the pressure.

5 ways to save your relationship after having a second child

Acknowledge things have changed

Relationships Australia national executive officer Nick Tebbey describes having children as a significant life event that changes pretty much everything.

“That’s not necessarily a negative thing, but it is a fact,” Nick says.

“So I think being prepared for change, whether it’s your first child or your second, and having an idea of how you’re going to approach that, as a couple, is really crucial.”

Commit to being in it together

“What we see in the research is that having a child can be a real cause of loneliness for parents, because they can both feel like they’re going through it alone,” Nick says.

“Being clear from the outset that you’re in it together, that you have each other’s backs and that you can tell each other anything about how you’re feeling or what you’re experiencing without fear of judgement, is key.”

Prioritise your relationship

Cassandra says the value of scheduling quality time together – and putting it in the diary – cannot be understated.

“This then becomes a non-negotiable appointment,” she says.

“It can be as simple as sitting together and chatting for an hour after the kids have gone to bed, or a home date night, where you commit to watching a series together.

“Closeness and connection are personal and individual to every couple, so do what works for you.”

Cut each other some slack

Nick says that, within reason, showing some grace in the face of behaviour fuelled by stress and sleep deprivation can be helpful.

“Give space for your partner to be a little bit irrational or short with you and try not to take it personally, particularly in those early months after baby is born when you’re both adjusting to this new world order,” he says.

Call in professional help if you need it

Nick also reiterates the importance of giving yourself permission to feel like things aren’t great, and asking for help when you need it.

“It’s not a sign that you’re a bad parent or a terrible partner,” he says.

“Like many other things in life, it may just be that you need a little bit of support.”

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Written by Karen Fittall.