Before it's too late, date!
Want to avoid divorce? Want to give your marriage the best chance for lasting success? Before it's too late, date!
Dating is especially important for couples with young children. Why? Because, while there is nothing more rewarding than raising kids, children come with an endless series of tasks, chores and responsibilities that tend to focus on the household. So couples must <em>exit</em> their household in order to take adequate space from their demanding routines, recharge and reconnect romantically.
Let's get something out of the way: most marriages fail for reasons far more complicated than a lack of dating. And by the time the unhappiest of married couples reach the therapy office, many marriages are way too far gone to be saved by a series of dates.
However, the longer I work as a couples therapist, the more convinced I become that the place where many good marriages can start to deteriorate is rooted in a couples' joint failure to recognize the importance of making time to date. I practically beg the married couples I work with to date. I share with them (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elisabeth-joy-lamotte-licsw/divorces-dirty-little-sec_b_800524.html) Divorce's Dirty Little Secret: that many divorced parents secretly enjoy their regular break from their kids. That many wish they had realized the importance of down time and figured out a way to make time for themselves and their spouse while they were still married. Eyebrows usually rise with surprise when this information is revealed. For some, Divorce's Dirty Secret can be a motivator. And yet, try as I may, I tend to hear the same two excuses every time:
Excuse Number One: Time
An exhausted working mother of three laments:
"I hardly see my kids enough as it is given my long hours at work. How can I leave them at night when evenings are my only chance to be with them?"
Her heartfelt words are repeated to me by parent after parent, pretty much verbatim, during my ongoing campaign to encourage couples with young children to get out of the house and go on a date.
Excuse Number Two: Money
"The idea of a date sounds great. But when you add up the cost of the babysitter, dinner, and a movie at today's prices, it seems like a waste. Why not just put the kids to bed and watch a movie at home?"
Probably ninety percent of today's parents have voiced some version of this sentence to their friends, family, or therapist when contemplating the barriers to dating once you become a parent. It's a great idea to watch a movie with your spouse once your kids are asleep, but this does not count as a date. The movie will most likely be paused at least twice to deal with household chores, emails or children who can't sleep, and consider yourselves lucky if both viewers stay awake for the entire film.
When two people love each other and love their kids, there is obviously nothing better than family time, but there is also a cost to family time. It can be exceptionally tiring and energy consuming. We all - married, single, dating, working outside the home, working from home - need a break sometimes. Not just for ourselves, but for our relationships.
Overcoming the Barriers to Dating
I wish a simple solution existed that made access to dating easier. When families were less spread out geographically, grandparents and extended family members were typically able to take on a greater day-to-day role in the children's lives, and this effectively addressed both barriers. Time away from parents was viewed positively as an investment in developing close bonds with grandparents. And the financial advantages are obvious. Fewer extended families enjoy the close proximity of past generations; however, many parents can do more to reach out to grandparents and extended family, either through inviting them to town or figuring out ways to bring children to see grandparents more frequently. Also, more and more communities are developing (http://www.nncc.org/choose.quality.care/qual.sitter.coop.html) babysitting cooperatives to defray the costs of babysitting and make childcare a more social and perhaps more enjoyable time where neighbors connect and children can socialize with one another.
Consider reaching out to any trusted family or friends who might provide free childcare. Also, look into whether your community has a babysitting coop. If they don't, start one!!! When you hesitate to leave your children, even for one night, remember that it is important for children to know that their parents love each other and value both their family time and their romantic time.
When ending therapy with couples who have children, I encourage them to direct the money they have budgeted to pay me toward a babysitting fund. After all, babysitting is cheaper than therapy and astronomically cheaper than divorce!
Elisabeth Joy LaMotte is author of Overcoming Your Parents' Divorce: 5 Steps to a Happy Relationship.
Visit www.elisabethlamotte.com to learn more or follow on twitter @elisjoy