Whether emotional or physical, many couples believe the number one quick fix to infidelity is by having a baby. Often assumed that the miracle of a new life will aid in a newly renewed bond between the couple for a better relationship and distract them from past conflict, a baby becomes the ultimate symbol of hope for a depleting marriage.
It’s easy to romanticize how a bouncing bundle of joy will help solve problems like infidelity between a couple, but the arrival of a baby to repair a broken relationship is pure myth as per licensed marriage and family therapist, Melissa Risso, M.A, LMFT of Risso Counseling in San Mateo, California.
“There is never a ‘quick fix’ when it comes to relationship concerns, especially when a couple has experienced infidelity of any sort,” Risso says.
Such was the case for Katie, 31 of Granger, Indiana who discovered her husband of 12 years was cheating on her for eight of those years with a neighbor she hardly noticed. Unsure how to resolve his infidelity without going to their church counselor or parents, Katie and her husband felt having a baby would bring relief to their relationship’s disturbance. Though not a physical affair, after two months of discovering his lengthy cheating habits, Katie became pregnant with her first baby.
“I’m not really sure what I was thinking since [my husband] is still very shady around me,” Katie says during her second trimester. “We still see [the neighbor] often as she lives just a few blocks down [but] I don’t regret the baby at all. I do feel guilty about rushing my decision with him because I can’t see myself married to him anymore. I can’t trust him and that gets worse every day.”
As Risso explains, quite often couples like Katie experience a lack of trust, communication, and respect either at oneself or towards each other when infidelity has occurred. If a couple cannot address the infidelity in their relationship and try their hardest to brush it under the rug, Risso believes this action eventually leads to resentment, anger, hurt and many unhealthy qualities that do not provide reasons for a couple to even remain together.
“Many of the couples I work with around infidelity present concerns around trust, but ultimately it comes down to respect towards one another and even themselves,” Risso says.
Carrie, 34 of Tampa Bay, Florida felt the effects of having a baby on her strained relationship almost immediately. Deciding to have their first baby a month after finding out of her husband’s yearlong infidelity with a co-worker, Carrie thought the two could overlook it together but discovered mid-pregnancy she was wrong. Having given birth to a healthy baby boy, Carrie is unhappy in her marriage and hoping to make the best decision for her and her son.
“Our marriage went downhill after the birth of our baby and I blame us for not working it out effectively,” Carrie admits. “It was really hard. I was suffering the baby blues and he was busy with work—we didn’t feel like a team anymore and I’m tired. I’m filing for divorce next month.”
Numerous studies have proven having a baby isn’t the solution to solve marital problems, especially for those looking to have their first child. Coinciding with Risso’s claims, statistics vary but reports indicate 70 to 90 percent of couples claim feeling less satisfied with their marriage after the birth of their first baby as the addition puts a sudden and drastic strain on the marriage.
“A baby may allow some couples to learn how to work together, communicate better and agree upon many required skills and future plans,” Risso says. “[But] if a relationship does not have key foundational qualities such as trust, respect, and communication—then quite often, a baby might enhance problems more.”
As Risso points out, some common problems that come up for couples are how to best raise the child (due to lack of communication), distrust around parenting decisions (due to lack of trust), and using the child as an excuse to bring up past concerns. An example she provides is how a partner might say to their spouse, “You’re not being a good father,” when realistically, the partner might have unresolved hurt and anger from the infidelity.
Risso stresses the importance of being the best parents to your child and being on the same page as several other concerns might become more apparent with the pending birth.
Crandall, 34 of Fort Meade, Maryland was caught by his wife of 11 years for having an emotional affair for six years with a woman he met online. While they never became physical, Crandall admits he and this woman would engage in online sex. After his wife found out last November of the affair, Crandall reveals he was pressured into having a baby to prove commitment and devotion to his wife.
With his wife currently two months pregnant, Crandall is having second thoughts of having a baby but feels it’s ‘karma’ and a necessary action to prove the truth in his vows.
“I love my wife, but I’ve been really confused about love—I wish we talked about it more,” Crandall says. “I’m not sure I even want to be a dad right now. I don’t know how I can be there for this kid when I wasn’t there for half of my marriage. The two are at opposing ends. It’s very intimidating.”
Explaining the significance of providing a healthy model to your child, Risso provides a list of questions couples should ask themselves and their partners when taking the leap into parenthood amidst infidelity:
- Do you think you and your partner are healthy role models for what a relationship should look like to a child?
- Will your child be safe—emotionally, physically, mentally, etc., by this relationship?
- Do you see yourself and your partner providing stability in a child’s life?
- Do you respect your partner? Do you want your child to respect you and your partner? If so, what does that look like to you?
While responses will vary greatly from person to person, Risso explains that when you bring children into the world, the very first bond they observe in their lives are with whoever is in the parental role—if there is one. In this case, the couple suffering through marital strife is the first real model in their child’s life where they will learn inevitably how to communicate, trust, respect, and develop key relationship skills as they grow older.
“This will later affect the child’s friendships, romantic relationships, and even how they interact with people in general,” Risso explains. “Being in a healthy relationship is important and couples that have relationship concerns should address them early on in order to provide a healthy model for a child.”
While Carrie is steadfast in her decision and will soon file for divorce, Katie and Crandall hope to stick it out for reasons in fear of repeating their personal family history.
“You could say I was a ‘band-aid’ baby,” Crandall reveals. “My parents had been married forever, until they weren’t. They had my siblings who are both 13 years older than me at the start of their marriage, but I was born shortly after my mother discovered my father’s infidelity. I think they thought having me would help them. In some ways, looking at my own life, it was kind of selfish.”
Sharing that his parents divorced at the tender age of three, Crandall senses family history is going to repeat in his own story.
“My siblings are divorced, my parents, and my grandparents—I wanted us to be different, but maybe I’m next,” he says dejectedly. “Who knows?”
According to the Canadian Journal of Sociology Online, if your parents divorced, you’re at least 40 percent more likely to do the same. However, if they got remarried and stayed married to their second partner, the report states you increase your chances of getting divorced to a staggering 91 percent likelihood.
While several studies found divorce works as a social contagion spreading among family and friends, Risso doesn’t believe all couples who have parents that divorced will end up in divorce—but does believe there is a greater likelihood for several different reasons.
“Some argue that if your parents divorced, then the idea is accepted and will be an ‘option’ for you,” Risso says. “Having parents that divorced gives one an unspoken rule that it is okay to do and presents divorce as an option should you marry someone you are not happy with in the future.”
As she counters, many who come from divorced families begin to learn unhealthy patterns early on.
“If as a child you always saw your parents arguing and cheating on each other, [this] might create similar behaviors in yourself and teach you that unhealthy behaviors might appear healthy given what you have learned and observed,” Risso says.
In addition, Risso adds that these unhealthy behaviors might later come up in your own relationships due to finding such behaviors as normal.
“There are several various reasons why people end up in divorce, whether related to your parent or not,” she says. “However, it is important to learn healthy relationship skills so that you do not end up divorced and provide the best partnership for your partner and yourself.”
Risso shares ways this can be done through learning more about yourself, your needs, attending individual therapy and developing healthy skills overall in your own life, whether romantically or not.
With Katie’s quick decision to have a baby in hopes to mend her relationship, it begs the question, why can’t a couple just confront their infidelity head-on?
“I guess accepting it means I was a failure of sorts and would soon become a split image of my own parents,” Katie says. “By sweeping [my husband’s] shortcomings under the rug and just ignoring it, I’ve misdirected my concern and I cannot stand him for making me feel that way.”
Risso works with several couples experiencing the pain of infidelity and shares how it’s never truly gone even if ignored.
“Some couples I met do stay together even if the infidelity was not addressed, but often times, the anger, hurt and lies come out in other areas of the relationship,” she says.
Recommending that couples confront these concerns early on in hopes to build healthy relationship skills that lead to happiness, Risso advises a couple’s counselor to help process the infidelity.
“This also might mean that people in the relationship [might] need to go to individual therapy to explore reasons for the infidelity, self-esteem, unprocessed events, and feelings from past situations,” she says.
Going to therapy might not fix a marriage rocked by infidelity, but for someone like Carrie, it made her wiser and more reflective.
“I need to do what I can for my kid—my husband will never change and that much I know,” she said. “My son was a ‘band-aid’ baby in some way, but if anything he fixed me more than my relationship and I’m blessed by that.”
Nevertheless, Carrie advises other mothers to be cautious after discovering their husband’s infidelity.
“A baby doesn’t actually help a wound heal—it just exacerbates the worst qualities of a broken relationship, infecting the wound and making it worse,” she says. “Some couples might still want to stay together, but the relationship is dead and what’s the point of that? I know I’m worth more.”
Risso understands clients like Carrie and feels for them.
“Everyone deserves to be in a happy, healthy relationship so confronting these issues are crucial to working towards just that!” she expresses. “Issues cannot be brushed under the rug—it’s not that easy.”
As Katie, Carrie and Crandall work on their marriages tarnished by infidelity in whichever way they can, it’s evident that relationships require a lot of work. Nothing comes easy and as Risso explains, this happens to many people across the United States, but couples like these three must confront what is really going on before having a baby.
Research indicates that a lot of the time, couples like these three are feeling a loss of connection and love in their relationships and choose to hold onto the fantasy or idealization that a child will bring everything back to normal.
“Having addressed these issues early in a relationship would be advised so that couples can be the best parents to their children, and also the best partners to each other,” Risso says. “Seeking a couple’s counselor would be recommended to address the infidelity, [but] having a baby will not solve these issues.”
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