The Secret to a Stronger Marriage – When You Put Your Relationship With Your Partner First, It Can Benefit You And Your Kids

Photo: Emily Hajec Photography ©2013

Photo: Emily Hajec Photography ©2013

Novelist and screenwriter Nora Ephron once wrote, “When you have a baby, you set off an explosion in your marriage, and when the dust settles, your marriage is different from what it was.”

My husband, Greg, and I sure felt a big shift. After our two girls were born, our otherwise strong marriage faced more than a few battles – and a lot of just plain neglect. Like most new parents, we were engrossed in taking care of our daughters’ everyday needs. Finding time to feed, bathe and play with them between our work schedules was challenging enough. Hanging out as a couple wasn’t even on the to-do list.

We both started to worry: How could we nurture our marriage – the relationship that created these beautiful children to begin with – and still manage to be good parents?

It happens to the best of us

“Many couples do exactly what my husband and I did,” says Carol Ummel Lindquist, Ph.D., mother of two and author of Happily Married with Kids: It’s Not Just a Fairy Tale. We give plenty of attention to our children and not nearly enough to each other. And over time, that can hurt even the most solid relationships.

“The irony is that a strong relationship with your partner is one of the best things you can do for your kids,” Lindquist adds. “You and your husband are modeling a good relationship, which sets your children up for better marriages themselves when they grow up.”

But how can you keep a focus on your marriage when most of your time and energy is devoted to your kids? “Try to treat your relationship with your partner as the one that’s most important in your life – even more than the one with your children – and the whole family will benefit from it,” says John Rosemond, a family psychologist and author of John Rosemond’s New Parent Power.

Ideas to help keep your marriage strong:

Create warm welcomes

You hug your kids and pet your dog every day. But do you greet your husband with the same enthusiasm? Once in a while, kiss and hug as if you aren’t going to see each other for a week. Let the kids giggle: This kind of affection reassures them that you’re close to each other, as well as to them.

Celebrate Your Togetherness 

Irene Palm of Magalia, California has a penchant for surprising her husband with creative getaways, like theater tickets and an overnight stay at the Ashland Springs Hotel in lovely Southern Oregon, or a dory boat ride on the Sacramento River in Redding that included an on-board dinner on a warm summer evening. Another adventure she came up with was wading in the creek at Chico’s Bidwell Park, followed by a delicious picnic rounded up from the Olive Pit in Corning. They’ve shared a chalet at the Mount Shasta Resort with time to bike around Lake Siskiyou, and their most recent adventure was exploring the Feather River Canyon with a stay at the rustic (and historic) Belden Town Lodge on Highway 70, below Quincy.

 Shift your center of attention sometimes 

Gretchen Roberts and her husband, Derek, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, want their daughter to know that they’re not always going to drop everything when she wants their attention. “We don’t let her demands interrupt our conversations if they’re not pressing,” says Gretchen. “As she gets older, she’ll be able to participate more.”

Try 20-minute reconnects

If you can’t have a whole weekend away or even a regular “date night” to keep the spark alive, Dov and Chana Heller, both Beverly Hills-based marriage therapists and the parents of five, suggest taking short walks alone to catch up with each other. Another option: Pair up to chauffeur the kids to daycare or pick them up from an activity, and use the kid-free portion of the commute or waiting time to chat.

Set early bedtimes

“When my kids were young, everyone went to bed by 8:30 every night, no exceptions,” says Mary Anne Koski of Lake Oswego, Oregon. She and her husband, Kent, raised nine kids, and the only time they got to spend alone was at the end of the day. “The kids didn’t have to be asleep, but they had to be in their rooms and out of our hair. That way, we made sure we got a chance to talk.”

Share the load

Chore time can also be prime couple time. After putting their daughter to bed each night at 7:30, Jessica Boulris and her husband, Brad, of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, listen to music together while they make lunches for the following day or fold laundry. An added benefit: “Because we’re helping each other get stuff done, there’s no resentment about who does more,” says Jessica.

Put sex on your schedules

Sounds a bit unspontaneous – and it is. But it’s often the only way to keep your intimate relationship on your to-do list. “It’s perfectly okay to agree, ‘Tuesday night is gonna be our night,’” says Chana Heller. “We all like to look forward to good things.”

Remember: Dad’s way works, too

Most of us have criticized our husbands for not feeding or dressing our kids exactly as we would do it. “But this can make dad feel more like a parenting aide than an equal partner – not good for a relationship,” says Rosemond. For their part, men should guard against the temptation to skirt the demands of parenting by fleeing to work, the garage, or the couch in front of the TV.

Understand the stages of marriage

If you appreciate that the challenging times in your marriage are temporary, you’re less likely to feel trapped. And feeling a little disconnected from your partner while your kids are small doesn’t mean your marriage is on the rocks. “Instead, see your anger or frustration as a signal that you just need to back up and make a greater effort to connect with each other,” says Lindquist.

No matter how hard it may be at times, investing in your marriage is vitally important. “One of a child’s greatest anxieties is the fear that her parents won’t stay together,” says Rosemond. “So what is a child’s greatest comfort? Knowing that her parents’ relationship is as strong as it can be.”

In other words, you don’t have to choose between a happy marriage and happy, secure kids. By having the first, you’ll likely get the second as well. 

Teri Cettina
About Teri Cettina

Writer Teri Cettina is a mom of two.

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