Fact: children put a lot of stress on a relationship.
We’re so used to putting our kids smack-bang in the centre of our world, that often our partnerships slip to second priority. Here are a few ways to find each other again.
1. Ignore the kids a bit
We all want our children to feel loved and acknowledged, but that doesn’t mean you have to drop everything to play tea parties with your child. Sometimes, a bit of healthy benign neglect can actually encourage children to wander off and amuse themselves – and reinforces the fact that yep, mum and dad sometimes have more important things to do than build a Lego tower. For me, that ‘important thing’ is being able to sit with my partner after dinner and talk about our day over a glass of wine. This daily moment of connection is important to us. Admittedly it’s taken a long time to train the kids to just leave-us-the-hell-alone for that little window of time, but they get it now – Mum and Dad are talking, time to go make mayhem somewhere else for a while.
2. Avoid autopilot
Ambivalence is like rust, it can slowly wear away at a marriage until before you know it, you’re falling apart, running on entirely different schedules and passing each other like ships in the night. It happens so easily when our lives are over-run with the kids’ needs. But do what you can to stay focussed on each other. For many of us, this can be as simple as speaking up. Telling your partner what’s on your mind, asking for help, and staying in the loop about each other’s internal lives.
3. Make time for each other
Date night! I know, it’s the worst cliche, but the fact is we have to give it an official cheesy name so we can commit to the concept – booking a babysitter, putting on something nice, going out alone. Sometimes, it can feel like more work than it’s worth, but never ever have I regretted it when Date Night commences and I’m sitting in that restaurant with my partner pretending like we’re 25 again. Just do it. And do it often.
4. Be kind
So much of parenthood is about putting out fires. Someone always needs something, noise levels increase, stresses mount. Our own frustrations have to go somewhere, and understandably, we often direct them at our partners, not our children. We start living in a perpetual fight-or-flight mode. It’s not pretty. But here’s the thing – science has proven that long-lasting relationships have one thing in common: kindness. Turns out that giving our partner regular, authentic moments of attention is the invisible glue that can keep us together. So rather than scanning our partner for their mistakes (you haven’t emptied the dishwasher yet!), maybe we can be generous about their intentions (so glad you’re planning on emptying the dishwasher this morning *smile*). We can try.
5. Court spontaneity
Children are spontaneity killers. They just are. And we accept this when we have kids, but most of the parents I know still mourn the inability to just up-and-go somewhere. That said, surely there’s still room for small moments of spontaneity in our hectic parent-lives. Maybe it’s dropping the kids off at Grandma’s and surprising your partner with a night at the movies. Or taking the morning off work to have brunch together. So naughty, I know, but the clock’s ticking, and as my five-year-old says – you snooze, you lose.
6. Bring sexy back
For heaps of mothers especially, sex can start to feel like one more thing to do. This is understandable when you’ve spent the day looking after little people and you feel empty, empty, empty. But keep reminding yourself that sex with your partner isn’t work – it takes effort, for sure, but that effort totally pays off when you can have good/great/mind-blowing sex. We know the benefits; stress reduction, greater intimacy, maybe even a better night’s sleep. For many of us, it’s just getting over that initial hurdle and adjusting our mindset for sexy time (not work time)
7. Never stop paying attention
When two becomes three, or four, or five, we get distracted by the chaos. We put our kids first, we try to be the best parents we can. But there comes a time when we have to put the kids down a few notches, and place our partner first. This is a long marathon we’re running after all, and we’re running it together. Keep your eyes on each other, and the kids will be all right.