Does your romantic-song repertoire include Hannah Montana? Does dinner on your anniversary include chicken dinos and pizza? Are romance and intimacy distant memories? If you answered yes to these questions, you must be married with kids!
It doesn’t have to be this way. Once children reach the elementary-school years, there is a wonderful opportunity for couples to reconnect. The children are launched; kids can walk, talk, feed themselves and need less moment-to-moment observation. It’s a perfect time for couples to stop, look at the big picture and realize that their partner is more than just “the other parent.” He or she is their partner in life!
Why is this important?
Reconnecting in your relationship is important on two levels. First, it’s important for your own health and well being. “Working on your relationship will do more for your physical health than going to the gym each day,” says Seattle marriage expert (and ParentMap advisory board member) Dr. John Gottman. “When we feel secure in our relationship, we are helped both emotionally and physically.” This means your immune system functions better, your creative thinking is improved and your mental health stabilizes.
Second, the quality of your relationship is crucial for the development of your child. Children who live in households where parents are connected to one another learn to have better social relationships themselves. Observation of their parents’ relationship helps children define how they treat others and what kind of partner they want to be. So a key to parenting well is taking care of your own relationship first. Many couples feel like they should focus on the kids now and their relationship later. Not so, and here’s why: Your kids will wait while you build your relationship, but your relationship won’t wait for your kids to grow up.
David and Lisa are parents of two kids, ages 7 and 9. “Once the kids were born, we decided our relationship could wait,” David says. We had both been raised in homes where our needs came second, if at all. We decided our family life would revolve around our kids.” By making the conscious decision to always put the kids first, David and Lisa have let go of their own interests for the sake of the kids. Now, the Newcastle couple feels resentful of the time they spend at kids’ activities and doing school projects. Lisa says, “After all the errands, sporting events and birthday parties, there is no time left for just the two of us. Now we don’t know each other anymore.” This couple has a wonderful opportunity to reconnect!
Start to rebuild
There’s one thing all relationship and parenting experts recommend: a date night. For a relationship to thrive, couples need to make time to be alone together. It can be difficult to feel connected to your partner if you spend all your time being Mommy and Daddy.
“Parents may worry that spending time away from their child to focus on one another might be bad for their child,” says Beth Goss, parent education instructor at South Seattle Community College. “In reality, research shows that going away for a few hours, or a few days, and learning to separate is important for your child’s development, too. It’s a good idea for them to learn how to relate to, and rely on, other adults.”
Three steps to reconnect
First: Assess your relationship. Think for a moment about what is missing. Is it time spent alone together? Laughter? Spirituality? Sex? Whatever the answer, the goal is to find a unified purpose that grows the relationship between the two of you.
Second: Find rituals of connection. This doesn’t have to be difficult; just connect more often. Think text messages, quick kisses, a hug, dinnertime conversation or enjoying a television show together.
Third: Focus on intimacy. For many couples, this area is the most difficult and can cause conflict. But sex is a key component of relationship satisfaction.
What about sex?
If you’re wondering where the intimacy went, consider the things you did when your romance was strongest and make an attempt to do them again. Consider, too, what outside stresses could be affecting each of you. Ask yourself if you or your partner tends to be critical or make demands that might be a turn-off in the bedroom.
One way to improve the sex in your relationship is to connect with your partner in other ways first. Research by the Relationship Research Institute shows that couples who share the responsibility for household tasks, child care and finances have more frequent sex and report a greater sense of intimacy with their partners. One parent in a workshop said, “We used to be really stressed about the housework. Finally, we realized that two parents with a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels can cover a lot of common ground in 10 minutes. Getting the chores done was foreplay!”
Build up and tend to your emotional connection and you’ll increase communication and decrease conflict. A return of intimacy is likely to follow.
Carolyn Pirak is the director of the national Bringing Baby Home program. She is married and the mother of two children.
Reconnecting with your partner
- Ask each other what is working in your relationship. What is not working?
- Try not to only refer to your spouse as “Mommy” or “Daddy.” That’s a sure way to prevent your partner from feeling sexy.
- Reunite with a five-second kiss. You’ll be surprised at how long five seconds lasts!
- Break the routine. Is every day the same?
- Give yourself permission to prioritize your relationship.
- Schedule sex. Don’t wait for spontaneity or you might wait until the kids go to college!
- Hold hands, hug, massage: Every small physical gesture helps to set the stage for more intimate connections later.
- Get professional help early if you are having trouble. Many couples wait too long before acknowledging difficulty.