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12.14.09

Don't Get Pregnant, Elin!

As a way to shore up their union, badly shaken in the wake of his adultery scandals, Tiger Woods reportedly wants his wife, Elin, to have another baby. Marriage experts, however, warn it’s a horrible idea.

A British tabloid is reporting that Tiger Woods thinks a new baby might be the answer to all his problems.

“Another baby is Tiger’s idea,” a friend of the couple told the Daily Star. The source says the couple will embark on their baby project as soon as they set sail on Tiger’s 155-foot, three-story yacht, aptly named Privacy: “Right now, Elin is horrified by the idea… but he believes that when they’re alone on the ocean waves he can change her mind.”

“That would be the worst thing in the world to do,” said Don-David Lusterman, a marriage and family psychologist.

The Tiger cub gossip may prove nothing more than a silly tabloid rumor. But regardless, that old chestnut of received marital wisdom—that the best solution to an unhappy partnership is a new bun in the oven—is now back in the headlines. No matter that it’s a longstanding chauvinist pressure point, or even that it doesn’t work. If only Elin would just get rocking on those ocean waves, our long national nightmare could finally be over!

Of course, anyone who knows anything about successful relationships knows the idea is a farce. Experts say adding Baby No. 3 into the unhappy Woods family mix would be a colossal disaster.

“That would be the worst thing in the world to do,” said Don-David Lusterman, a marriage and family psychologist in Baldwin, New York, and author of Infidelity: A Survival Guide.

Were Elin to welcome Tiger back into the connubial bed and bear him another child, she would be, in effect, absolving him of his sins.

“He’s naughty,” said Lusterman. “If his naughtiness is rewarded by another child, it says to him, ‘I guess I really can do anything.’”

And what kind of a message is that? Indeed, said Lusterman, Tiger’s biggest problem is that he’s trapped in the body of a 33-year-old golfer who never got to be a 12-year-old kid. What he needs to get better is not a child but therapy—and lots of it.

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“What I’d try to do is quite the opposite of having a baby,” said Lusterman. The only way Elin could save her marriage, he added, is not by reproducing but by helping him become psychologically sound. If she wants to stay married, she has to understand that the marriage will never be OK until Tiger’s OK—and Tiger will never be OK as a husband until he’s OK as a man.

What’s more, there’s scant evidence that having another child would make the marriage happier. As Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history at Evergreen State College and the director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, noted in a February 2009 Op-Ed in The New York Times, more than 25 studies have found that marital quality drops precipitously once a baby enters the equation.

“This romantic notion he has that having another child is going to transform his marriage seems ridiculous to me,” said Laurie Abraham, author of the forthcoming The Husbands and Wives Club: A Year in the Life of a Couples Therapy Group. “And the idea that these two, at this incredibly fraught point, can decide with the kind of clarity that they want to have another baby seems impossible. If you just look at the data piece of it, it seems this is no time to welcome another child.”

In her New York Times piece, Coontz cites University of California at Berkeley researchers Philip and Carolyn Cowan, who found that the average drop in marital satisfaction was accounted for by couples who disagreed or were ambivalent about parenthood. On the other hand, those who agreed on it (i.e., wanted it) maintained or even increased their happiness quota. Tiger Woods reportedly canceled a sex romp to be present for the birth of his child—not exactly Father of the Year material, but it’s something.

Abraham has witnessed the Cowans’ theory in action. In her book, she followed five couples in therapy for two and a half years. During that time, two of the couples got pregnant or had children. But instead of breaking them up, the experience bonded them together.

“I was amazed at how much their marriages improved,” said Abraham. “It really seemed to solidify them and make them much happier. But all four of them really wanted it. There wasn’t big ambivalence.”

She added: “It’s almost child abuse that Tiger ended up how he is, which was so focused on the bubble of golf. Tiger Woods never learned to be a person, so it doesn’t surprise me that he would actually think [having another kid] is a fix. He was so focused on one thing, he wouldn’t have any idea how to make something better.”

“The marriage is in shambles right now,” said Dale Archer, a clinical psychiatrist in Lake Charles, Louisiana, who has worked with couples. “Infidelity is not devastating because of the sex but because of the lying. He’s starting at ground zero in terms of rebuilding the marriage. Over the next few months, his focus needs to be not on golf, not on his career or endorsements, but on his family. And if things are progressing on those lines, then clearly having another kid could be an option. But right now that would a big mistake.”

Stephanie Coontz added: “Couples need time alone to renew their relationship. They also need to sustain supportive networks of friends and family. Couples who don’t, investing too much in their children and not enough in their marriage, may find that when the demands of child-rearing cease to organize their lives, they cannot recover the relationship that made them want to have children together in the first place.”

At this point anything’s still possible for the suffering Woodses. But chances are if recovery comes, through wrangling with personal lawyers and silencing of mistresses, it won’t be because of a baby on board.

Abby Ellin regularly writes the Vows column for the New York Times, and previously wrote the Preludes column for that newspaper about young people and money. She is the author of Teenage Waistland, but her greatest claim to fame is naming “Karamel Sutra” ice cream for Ben and Jerry's.