Research indicates that about 67% of couples experience a nose dive in marital satisfaction with the birth of the first child (see Shapiro, Gottman, & Carrère, 2000) and that, without effective intervention and focus, this doesn’t start to turn around until the kids start leaving home. And yet, the two of you create the very foundation on which those children will stand for their lifetime. If it is cracked or broken, the consequences to the kids, as well as yourselves, can be dire.
Yet with incredibly greater demands on your time, sleep deprivation and hormonal shifts early on, touch saturation, often the loss of privacy in your bedroom, the income requirements of a family’s rising expenses, and the need to focus on the needs, the safety, and the healthy development of more than just yourselves and each other, finding even 5 minutes a week together alone may seem like an impossible dream! You feel like if somebody gives you just ONE more thing to do, you’ll run screaming through the streets with your hair on fire. And yet, the data shows us that with a strong friendship and affection system that continues to be nurtured throughout the years you can actually increase couple satisfaction in the face of all kinds of life challenges, including but not limited to the transition to parenthood. Your relationship could be your place of rest… your safe haven… if you keep the connection strong. And to do that, it’s crucial to find ways to turn toward each other on a regular basis, have fun, make shared memories and dreams, and rekindle the memory of why you fell in love in the first place.
Whether you are struggling because you have a newborn, you’re chasing a toddler around, or you have older kids who are back in school and the hectic pace of the school year family life in full swing, it can be tough for couples to find any time to connect. But your relationship is so important that your family wouldn’t be here without it. You may be so busy that you’ve had to put a lot of things on the back burner—including your
relationship. Your careers may have ramped up at just time when parenthood has become most demanding. It may seem truly impossible to find time in your schedule for anything but what’s on fire. Amidst feeling that finding time for each other will have to wait until all your children are grown and your time is no longer eaten up by your work, helping with/monitoring homework, chauffeuring children around, making sure you show up for that brilliant hit in t-ball or the impossible touchdown, let’s look at some ways to keep your relationship a strong foundation both for yourselves and for your children.
1. Put yourself on your partner’s calendar for regular date nights.
“Date night” is recommended by almost every therapist and for good reason: couples need regular nights out to enjoy each other’s company and remember why they fell in love. When you don’t make time for date nights, life becomes a series of housework and parenting tasks. Before you know it, your partner feels like a roommate rather than your lover. Don’t let date night become another optional event that you say you’ll get to someday. Find several good childcare options and make going out together, just the two of you, a priority now. Check with family, friends, your local high school honor society, a nearby university Developmental Psychology or Education Department, your church, care.com, anyone you like at work who might have nieces or nephews, etc. There are lists of questions to ask just by looking on pinterest (e.g., http://dailymom.com/nurture/best-interview-questions-for-a-babysitter/ Maybe you can get together with others in your family, neighborhood, at work, or at church and create a babysitting co-op! (http://www.thedatingdivas.com/how-to-organize-a-babysitting-co-op/)
2. Take advantage of other short windows of opportunity.
Whether you’re keeping up with regular date nights or not, it’s still important to squeeze in time with your spouse. Maybe you can meet each other for lunch or wake up early for Sunday morning breakfast in bed. Put on your creativity glasses and start looking through your schedule for brief periods of time that you can steal away with your partner. Remember when you were first dating and you tried to sneak in every moment of free time you could, even if it was just 10 minutes to talk on the phone? Do that again.
3. Trade babysitting with another couple for quality time.
It can be difficult—not to mention expensive—to get a babysitter when you want a night out with your significant other and you have small kids at home. Chances are good that you have friends or neighbors who are going through the same situation. Talk to other couples you know who have young children and offer to set up a date night babysitting swap: they watch your kids one night and you watch theirs on another night. Or offer to do a service for another couple without kids, like grocery shopping, dog sitting, or running errands in return for them babysitting. Because it saves money, that also removes another common obstacle to getting time alone.
4. Make a great escape—without leaving your home.
Let’s face it: sometimes getting out of the house can seem like a major ordeal when you have young children. Between the challenge of lining up child care and the exhaustion you feel after a long day, sometimes the thought of going out just sounds overwhelming. Learn to find opportunities to get away without even having to leave your house. Set aside time for a romantic bubble bath for two or send the kids to bed early and have a late dinner by candlelight. With a little bit of imagination and creativity, you can make your home the setting for a romantic date.
5. Find the romance in everyday activities.
Being romantic is an attitude and a state of mind more than it’s about fancy dinners and show-stopping gifts. Embarrass your kids by doing an impromptu dance with your spouse in the grocery store. Stop and smooch while washing the dishes. Even sitting down on the couch together while the kids are playing can be romantic when you leave your cell phone in the other room and really focus on your partner. Setting aside quality time with your partner is an important part of keeping your relationship alive. It makes your home life happier and more peaceful and gives you the strength to keep going through the tough days. Raising a family isn’t easy, but it’s important to appreciate and stay connected with the one who’s in the trenches with you.