Is the bar higher for happiness in marriages without children?

By Victoria Fryer 

I recently had a conversation with a childfree friend of mine in which she confided that she was thinking of asking for a divorce. Though her reasons—which I won’t get into here, of course—were serious, they didn’t seem especially egregious. No one was cheating on anyone. There was no physical or emotional abuse. But she wasn’t happy.

And it made me wonder if the bar is higher for marriages without children. While I’ve never believed it’s worth staying in a terribly unhappy relationship just for the sake of the children, the stakes are certainly higher.

There are, obviously, so many advantages to being partnered—both practical and otherwise. There’s someone to work with in planning for the future. There’s someone to enjoy in day to day activities. There’s splitting the bills, putting down roots, expanding families (excluding children, of course!).

But there are a lot of people who enjoy, if not prefer, being single. There is a level of freedom in it that many appreciate. And, if you’re partnered with someone who doesn’t enjoy doing the same things as you, doesn’t have the same ideas about the future, or doesn’t provide you with the kind of partnership that you’re looking for, is it better to decouple and start over?

It’s obviously “easier” without children. There are no custody battles, no fights over child support, et cetera, to contend with. But is it easier to make the decision?

I know that, at least for me, the older I get, the more comforting it is to have a stable home and a steady partner. From the little things, like being comfortable with each other’s quirks and walking around in my bathrobe with no concern about looking good, to the big things, like planning for the future with shared investments and retirement considerations, the advantages of being married only grow.

But if I began to grow unhappy, I wonder how long it would take for my thoughts to turn to divorce. I respect the sanctity of marriage—after all, we made promises to each other. But we also get only one chance at this life.

Since our first conversation, my friend has decided to give it more thought before she makes any rash decisions. And she’s also asked her partner to try couples counseling in the hopes that they can work out the issues they’re currently facing.

Do you think the bar is higher for happiness in childless marriages? Or is the promise of marriage equal, whether or not you have children? Also, is the level of effort toward “to death do us part” the same?

Victoria Fryer is a writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

Childless couples

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