The 5-Step Bedtime Routine Happily Married Couples Do Each Night Without Fail

Photo: StefanDahl via Canva
Couple brushing teeth getting ready for bed

What do you and your spouse do before bed? Brush your teeth, swish some mouthwash, scrub your face, then get under the covers, and watch old episodes of The Office on Netflix as you both drift off. Maybe you finish work in bed, falling asleep to a screen full of spreadsheets, because it’s the only time you could get it done — after all, the evening was a haze of bath routines, bedtime stories, and preparations for the days ahead. It happens.

But for married parents, quality alone time — chances to connect and make conversation that doesn’t revolve around kids — is an increasingly rare commodity. Once a couple has gotten the kids to bed, they have at least an hour or two of uninterrupted time together.

RELATED: The Not-So-Silent Relationship Killer That Creeps Up On You

Unfortunately, we all tend to squander that time by watching TV or scrolling through our phones. But this is a big disservice to a marriage. We all need time to wind down. But, the time before bed is crucial for parents. “Due to our increasingly busy lives, this is often the only time many have to connect these days,” says Dr. Clinton Moore, a clinical psychologist.

That connection is essential for the health of a relationship — we all need time to feel like a couple and not just parents. It’s important, then, to make the most out of this period. So, when bedtime arrives, what do the happiest married couples do? Here is one routine to keep in mind.

The 5-step bedtime routine happily married couples do each night without fail:

1. Intentionally make time to connect

Instead of just flopping into bed and turning on the TV, the happiest couples take 10 minutes before they both go to bed to do what Dr. Moore calls, “The State of the Union.” This involves each partner taking turns in the role of either speaker or listener.

“The speaker shares their experience for the week, and the listener simply has to show curiosity without trying to problem solve,” he says. “It’s important that the couple find space to do this without the children present.”

The result: a consistent conversation that ensures both partners are on the same page and helps prevent resentments or imbalances from festering.

RELATED: 4 Unsexy Ways To Build A Rock-Solid Relationship

2. Make physical contact

Yeah, it can be intimacy. But it doesn’t — actually, shouldn’t — always be intimacy. There can be more than one form of intimacy under the covers. But couples need to connect physically just by lying side by side or getting their spoon on.

“Bedtime is connection time,” says Tiiu Lutter, a mental health professional and Director of Communication and Resource Development at Child Guidance Resource Centers. So, snuggle, scratch each other’s backs, giggle, and joke together. “Talking about the day is lovely, but not the details, the feelings. It’s not a time for problem-solving, but rather to share how things impacted and affected us.”

3. Go to bed at the same time 

A lot of couples end up having different bedtimes, with one or the other staying up later to watch TV, finish up work, or take on a few last tasks of the day. However, keeping separate bedtimes leads to greater disconnection and the feeling that each person is living a separate life.

For some, separate bedtimes can’t be avoided, but happy couples make sure to go to bed together as much as possible.

“I recommend that couples try to go to bed together at least three times a week,” says Lutter. “And to not stagger upstairs after sleeping on the sofa, but to actually go to bed together.”

Connections can’t be made if a couple is on different schedules.

RELATED: Top 10 Secrets Of Those Highly Successful Couples We All Envy

4. Ditch your devices

Phones — and the social media and games and apps they contain — are basically dopamine slot machines, designed to keep us scrolling, liking, commenting, email-checking, and posting. The major thing they distract from? Relationships. Real human relationships.

Nowhere is a device’s intrusion more apparent than in the bedroom. In a perfect world, phones and devices would never cross the bedroom threshold, but that’s unrealistic.

Instead, try a more realistic approach such as a “No phones after nine” rule to dial back on device usage. “Electronics and TV should be used briefly in bed,” says Lutter. “They pull us apart.”

5. Set boundaries with the kids

It’s an easy trap to fall into: prioritizing your kids over your relationship. But without a strong marriage and loving home, kids won’t thrive.

In other words, you’re doing them a disservice by putting your spouse on the back burner. While there is a time for kids to get under the covers (nightmares, illnesses, the occasional thunderstorm), by and large, the experts agree that the bedroom should be treated as a sacred place for just the two of you. Spend your evenings with your kids, then send them to their own beds.

“All the kid-hanging should have happened earlier,” Lutter says. “Don’t let your children take precedence over your relationship.” Of course, she adds, they want to come in and be with you, but it’s important to keep some things just for the grown-ups. “Kids do better when they have things to look forward to as adults. And adults do better when their relationship is the pinnacle of the family.”

RELATED: 4 Communication Techniques (That Are So Effective It's Scary)

Jeremy Brown is a writer and editor. His writing has appeared in many magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world and he has authored special issues for TV Guide and the Discovery Channel, among more.

This article was originally published at Fatherly. Reprinted with permission from the author.