4 Questions All Women Must Ask Themselves Before Getting Married and Raising Children – According to Research

Getting married, choosing who to marry, and deciding whether to have children are some of the most important decisions you can make and can affect the rest of your life. These two decisions can change the trajectory of your entire life and should not be taken lightly. Research is showing it is especially pertinent to consider these questions because of the unequal costs marriage and parenthood has on women. Be honest with yourself in your responses.

Do I want to be married because I want a wedding and the social status that comes with being married or because I want a marriage with a partner who is truly compatible with me?

Women are taught to idealize the day they get married rather than think strategically about who they marry and what marriage itself will realistically look like. Yet some longitudinal research shows that the benefits of marriage may differ for women and men. Certain mental health and physical health factors stabilize or decline for both men and women after transitioning into marriage, with women showing a sharper decline. While men tend to experience an increase in life satisfaction after getting married, women tend to experience greater psychological distress and a sharper decrease in life satisfaction transitioning into and after getting married; men also tend to reap more health benefits overall. A review of the research literature by Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Bella DePaulo showed that for both men and women, getting married only results in a slight increase in life satisfaction after the wedding, then continues to decline; this was shown in a meta-analytic review by Luhmann and colleagues (2012) as well as a 16-year longitudinal study of 11,429 adults by Kalmijn (2017) which captured this “honeymoon effect.” Luhmann and colleagues analyzed studies totaling 65,911 people and discovered that life satisfaction decreased over the following months after marriage. Kalmijn also noted this honeymoon effect in their study of 11,429 adults which showed an increase in depressive feelings and a decrease in life satisfaction as the marriage continues, with a surprisingly negative effect on health. In addition, their study revealed that women tended to experience a less negative effect from divorce on their life satisfaction than men did, suggesting that women may fare better in their well-being when they do exit the marriage. Another longitudinal study of 12,373 adults did not find that married people became healthier after becoming married unless they were in very long marriages surpassing ten years (Tumin, 2017). In summary, marriage likely won’t save you or your relationship if you aren’t already happy and healthy to begin with.

Unless you’re a man who tends to benefit from the additional domestic and emotional labor that wives are traditionally expected to take on, marriage isn’t going to drastically improve your life – in fact, depending on the partner you choose, it may actually add to your stress levels and burdens. You must ask yourself: is the person I am considering a potential lifelong partner someone who shares my core values, is genuinely attentive and generous, and emotionally stable – someone who has proven through their behavior and long-term actions that they are committed to me? Is this a partner who has good character, empathy and respect for me and others? Would they still be a good co-parent and respectful ex-partner even if we got divorced? Unless you are with a high-quality man who intends to take on more of the domestic responsibilities or be a provider, the benefits of marriage to men and women remain unequal. This may be one of the reasons why single and childfree women tend to be one of the happiest, wealthiest and healthiest subgroups in society and can even experience greater psychological growth according to research. You should know that you are not missing out on money, health, or happiness if you choose to take a different route. Social factors matter, too. If you are evaluating your life satisfaction based on the fact that you are praised by society for being married, you may overestimate your life satisfaction while not taking into account the satisfaction of your relationship or the true nature of your partner. Some women may find that when answering this question, they realize that they’re more into the idea of an engagement, the wedding day, and the social status of having a committed relationship rather than marriage itself.

Do I want to be married because I truly intend to choose a high-quality partner for life, or because I require validation from friends and family that I am now a “true” adult and will get married no matter what, even if it means I am settling for less?

Piggybacking off this last question, people may rush into marriage because they feel pressured to complete a traditional milestone they associate with adulthood and feeling “chosen,” even if it means being chosen by a toxic partner who will end up depleting you of your health, energy, and resources. They want to feel validated by their friends and family (especially if they were raised in a culture that emphasizes marriage and children) that they’re not missing out and lagging behind in some way. But being an adult has little to do with your relationship status or childrearing status. You are also an “adult” when you pursue your dreams, build a thriving career, graduate from school, create meaningful friendships, go to therapy, buy a house or apartment, learn to break your unhealthy and destructive patterns, and change the world. There are many ways to grow in life besides getting married and having children. In fact, some may feel their life got more stagnant once they were overwhelmed by the additional responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. Write down what you think marriage and parenthood will allow you to do that you feel you cannot achieve in other ways. Then, next to this list, write down other alternative ways you can fulfill those same needs or what you deem to be the “costs” of parenting and marriage (e.g. a supportive network of friends can be more nourishing than a toxic partner; I will sacrifice half of my life to raising my children because kids will be my priority and I will have to devote enormous amounts of time and energy to them) as well as what you can do more freely if you choose not to get married or have children (e.g. I can travel the world with more freedom; I can focus on my education and career with more ease). You’ll likely discover that while marriage and parenthood provide unique experiences, they are hardly the only ways to be fulfilled, and there are also many benefits to staying single or childfree. This is a great way to consider all your options before you decide.

Do I want to have children because I genuinely want to be a parent no matter how difficult it is? Or because it is expected of me and because I want to live through my children who I believe are responsible for “fulfilling” me and taking care of me?

People who are on the fence about parenthood may think they’re just “underestimating” how rewarding it will be and overreacting about the potential hardships. In fact, it’s the opposite. Many people feel unprepared for all the responsibilities of parenthood and do not realize everything they are sacrificing until it’s too late because of societal pressures. It’s a myth that parents never regret parenthood; they may genuinely love and cherish their children and find aspects of their lives very rewarding, but still acknowledge that it was far harder than they expected and grieve for the life they had before. For example, there are nearly 90,000 people on the subreddit known as “Regretful Parents,” who candidly share their true perspectives and difficulties in their parenting experiences: and these are just the English-speaking people who are willing to admit it. You may find parenthood rewarding and be fully prepared for the difficulties that are ahead: just ensure you know the true motives for why you want to be a mother or father. It’s wise not to expect to live through your children vicariously. Children are not objects to be raised with the narcissistic idea that they will fulfill or take care of you; the best parents know how to cultivate a child’s autonomy and individuality.  Carrying on your legacy shouldn’t be the only reason you bring a child into this world and you should take the steps to ensure your child doesn’t grow up with toxic conditioning or hostile, chaotic environments that will only carry on generational trauma. You should also be financially and emotionally prepared for childrearing and be able to give your children a loving home (this includes not marrying an abuser).

Am I prepared for the worst when it comes to both marriage and children?

When we think about marriage and children, we are conditioned to think about only the perceived rewards and never the potential costs – or how these costs can be different for men and women. Think of the old adage of a true marriage implying that you will be with one another “through sickness and health.” Unfortunately, this wedding vow doesn’t translate as well in real-life contexts for women as it does for men. Studies show that while women tend to stay by the side of their husbands during illness to help them pull through, men tend to abandon women during life-threatening health issues. Some women get cheated on during or shortly after pregnancy after devoting months of their life and risking their health in bearing a child or after years of being a stay-at-home mom who devotes her whole life to raising her children and being a “good wife.” The number one risk to pregnant women in the United States according to research is being murdered by their partners – moreso than  the three leading obstetric causes such as high blood pressure disorders, hemorrhage, or sepsis. You cannot truly know whether the person you marry will turn out to be a narcissistic abuser and serial cheater who puts your life and well-being at risk or whether the children you have will present with health issues that you will assist with through your entire life. You have to be prepared for anything when it comes to these life decisions. If you think the potential rewards outweigh the potential costs, have prepared yourself for both the rewards and pitfalls of parenthood and believe you’ve found a high-quality partner, marriage and parenthood may be fulfilling for you personally. However, if you feel you are rushing into these decisions because of your social conditioning rather than your authentic desires and values, it may be time to slow down and reevaluate.

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.