It always seems to happen this way…
Last month, a couple came into my office needing help with potty training their 2 year old. But before they knew it, they were talking about their marital issues. This couple had been married for a couple of years and enjoyed a strong relationship. However, when they had a baby everything changed, including their marriage.
Not only was this couple trying to deal with new sleep schedules, mood changes, and the lack of time for their relationship, they also felt a tremendous amount of guilt and shame when they came to an uncomfortable realization: “I love my kid, but they wreak havoc on my marriage, my career, my body, and my alone time.”
It took a level of vulnerability for the couple to admit that, and we needed to talk openly about it. We had to find solutions to cope with the normal yet difficult changes that occurred after they had their child. What practical steps could the couple take to improve their marriage? Together we identified four achievable steps they could take for a stronger, healthier marriage. I know this couple is not alone in their struggle.
#1. Take Time For Each Other
Work. Come home. Spend time with the baby. Drive kids to activities. Eat dinner. Go to bed. Repeat. It’s so easy to get caught up in a routine that before you know it, years have gone by and you realize you haven’t spent any time with your spouse. (Yeah, it happens.)
A marriage is like any relationship. You still have to nurture it.
Many people switch their relationship from “marriage” to “co-parenting” once kids come along, and in doing so, they forget to spend time together as a married, adult couple. Don’t focus on the number of dates you go on with your spouse. You can find time to spend together even at home. Eat breakfast together. Put the kids down early one night and talk on the couch. Strategically use a show or movie to occupy the kids while you catch up from the week.
#2. Set Boundaries With Your Kids
If you want a good marriage, make time for it by keeping your kids out of it. Our generation of parents knew boundaries growing up. We didn’t go into our parents’ bedrooms. We didn’t walk into their bathrooms while they were taking showers. We knew what was off limits. Nowadays boundaries hardly exist, and it’s slowly affecting marriages. Our generation needs to set boundaries with our kids.
What do boundaries look like? Maybe it means you don’t stop your conversation for your kids. Or it could mean telling your kids that when the bedroom door is closed, no walking in. You can make and enforce new rules. Try it, it’s worth the initial push back.
#3. Show Appreciation On A Daily Basis
Humans need to receive appreciation because it’s fundamental to our wellbeing. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to show appreciation, especially when you’re tired. (And most parents are.) Why should you say ‘thanks’ to your spouse for doing the dishes while you are doing the laundry? What’s the point in thanking him for dinner if you’re staying up to pack lunches?
It’s in these everyday moments that we NEED to show appreciation. Whether it’s laundry, dishes, cooking, or cleaning, a little appreciation goes a long way toward creating a strong marriage.
I even know one husband who has a daily reminder set on his Amazon Echo to show appreciation to his wife! It doesn’t matter if one of you is a stay-at-home parent and the other is an attorney, or if you’re two working parents: when you walk through the door, you’re equal partners in the household.
#4. You Need To Have Sex
Yeah, you need to have sex. It’s the reality. In order to have good sex, you need to have intimacy, and in order to have intimacy, you need to develop it through everyday interactions. Kiss each other hello and goodbye. Hold hands. Put your arm around your spouse. Cuddle on the couch. This everyday intimacy plays a key role in sexual intimacy because without it, you’ll get into the bedroom and while one person wants to have sex, the other person thinks, “No way! You haven’t kissed me all week. I’m not in the mood.”
For females, “not in the mood” usually means they’re harboring some resentment from the week. That could be everything from feeling under-appreciated to getting a haircut that went unnoticed. Tip for men: turn on your wife by being a good dad. Get down on the floor and play with your kids. Change diapers. Make the bottles. During the many stages of raising a child, showing your fatherly attributes is an aphrodisiac for your partner.
Finally, remember that spontaneity is not easy for many new parents. If it’s difficult for you and your spouse to find a time for sex, have a sex night. Schedule a time for sex? That’s not sexy! Sure, but NOT having sex isn’t sexy either.
My Challenge For You
- Be mindful of the fact that marriages have stages. Just like your child goes through stages of development, so too, does your marriage. Things will constantly shift, so I challenge you not to get stuck in the way things used to be because they’re never going to be that way again. But one day, your relationship may be better than ever.
- Practice acceptance when things change. Accept that bodies will change. Styles will change. Even make-up will change. Change causes uncertainty but can often be a good thing for yourself and for your family.
Above all, understand that marriages change as lives change. Be ready and willing to adapt.