It's no longer the seven-year itch

Couples with young children are now 41/2 times more likely to go their separate ways at the three-year mark instead of after seven years, a study by parenting website Netmums revealed recently.

More than 20 per cent of couples who split up saw their relationship fall apart after they had been together between two and four years, almost 12 per cent split up within a year.

Having children was cited as the main culprit, with parents suffering from exhaustion caused by the birth of a new baby or looking after young children.

Almost half of the 1,500 parents questioned said having children had driven them apart while only a third said it brought them closer.

Of those surveyed, 15 per cent "never" went out as a couple after having children and 14 per cent were able to go on dates with their spouse only one night in a year.

Integrated Psychology Network consultant psychologist Valerie Jaques believes that although children are not the cause of marriage breakdowns, having them often results in stress, physical tiredness and heightened emotions.

"If research is saying that couples are giving up too quickly, this could be because their threshold for pain is very low. This generation of young people have been brought up by parents who provided them with everything.

"They were never in want, before they could feel discomfort, their needs and wants were provided for. As such, their expectations for provision of feel-good feelings are much higher than the previous generation.

"As a result, taking care of children becomes too difficult and stressful, as there is this great need to provide material things which moves people to work harder and aim higher in their careers. This results in poor work-life balance."

The tired individual who has no time to take care of his or her own needs has to stretch even more for their child's needs, she says.

"In the end, they don't have much energy to meet the expectations of their marriage partners.

"Also, the pace of life was much slower before and this allowed more time to develop friendships and support systems. How many marriages have enough fun and balance these days?

"Many couples are not even living in the same town due to work constraints. Some live in different countries, some are in weekend relationships, some are married to their jobs and come home only to sleep, and some are committed to their bosses and expect their spouses and children to understand."

Senior family law practitioner Pushpa Ratnam believes that although most divorces in the country happen in the sixth and seventh year of marriage, problems often start at the very beginning.

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