I hear it often. "Before we had kids, we used to _____ all the time." Couples typically fill in the blank with something really fun that they used to do together, such as having lots of sex, adventures, great conversations, or laughing a lot. As a relationship therapist, I ask distressed couples who are in my office, "Why did you stop?"
Now, I've raised two kids with my husband, and truly understand the intense demands, emotions, drives, and stresses that go along with the job. But those don't have to mean putting your marriage on the back burner. Because, besides being fun, those activities bond couples together and feed the marriage. We all feel happier and healthier when we know that we are loved, enjoyed, seen, and appreciated by our life partners. And guess what? Parents loving each other and being happy in their relationship spills over onto the kids, and nourishes them, at least as much as making sure they attend every dance class, baseball practice and birthday party.
Now I'm not saying to eliminate all activities, or bankrupt the family pleasuring yourselves. I'm suggesting a balanced approach, where parents have a regular date night, or establish routines where the kids understand that after supper, or after the kids' bedtime, parents spend time together. Here are some common roadblocks that can get in the way, and ideas for moving them aside.
- I've never loved someone as much as I love my children and I want them to have everything. I get it. That heartfelt outpouring is genuine and deep. Just remember who provided the other half of their DNA and save a little love for them.
- I don't have anyone to watch my kid(s) if we want to go out. It may take some effort to cultivate babysitters, but it usually can be done. Consider swapping childcare with another family you trust, or get recommendations for responsible teens from friends or local community groups. Try them out for short periods of time at first, or try a lunch date so that a new sitter doesn't have to handle bedtime if that is a challenge in your household.
- We manage childcare by working opposite shifts so we barely see each other. While this may be a financial necessity, do be mindful of the impact on your marriage. Is there a way to increase the overlap so you have some time together? How long can you sustain this without feeling distant or jeopardizing your relationship?
- By the end of the day, we are exhausted and don't want to interact. Long days of kid care and career can drain the best of us. Can you crash out in the same room, watching the same screen as each other? Cuddling on the couch and zoning out together is better for bonding than doing your own thing at opposite ends of the house.
- We love being with the kids and it makes us feel close with each other. You are lucky, and so are your kids. Just remember that your children shouldn't be the only way you feel connected, as this isn't healthy for you or for them.
- When we try to have adult time, the kids always need something. Yes, kids have special radar for when parents shift their attention away. Perhaps you can help them respect your boundary with words such as, "Right now is time for mom and dad/mom and mom/dad and dad to have adult talk time. In twenty minutes, it will be time for stories."
- Being with the kids is easier than being with my spouse. It can be, especially if resentment has started to build in your relationship. Be honest with yourself if you are avoiding your spouse and know that whatever problems are causing that will likely get worse over time if they are not addressed directly. It's time to have some tough talks, or seek some marriage counseling if it's too hard to address on your own.
- We don't have the money to do the things we used to do before we had kids. While this is often the case, that doesn't have to mean that you can't do anything. Walks, lunches out instead of dinner, BYOB restaurants, and picnics can be affordable. Cutting back on other spending that doesn't add value to your family can free up some funds as well.
- I feel guilty if I do something fun and leave the kids behind. You have the right to an independent life, just as your children do when they are away from you. This can recharge your batteries so you have renewed energy for parenting.
- I work a lot so I need to make up for it by being with the kids. This is a tough balancing act. Just remember that when you make time for your spouse, the benefits trickle down to the rest of the family as well.
When life is hectic, it is very easy to take your marriage for granted. Make the time now to nourish the relationship that best predicts your child's lifelong sense of stability and well-being. Remember that at the end of the day, if all goes well, the children will grow up and leave home, and you will have either a vitalized connection with your spouse or a disconnected one. If the disconnection already feels too great to resolve on your own, you may benefit from couples counseling to help you get back on track.
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