Balancing marriage and parenting is not for the faint of heart.
For most of us, bringing home our first child introduces a whole new kind of love into our lives. Holding that newborn baby for the first time, we know we’ll do whatever it takes to keep them safe and warm and happy. Yet we soon discover that bringing that little one home presents many new challenges. The transition into parenting is a huge adjustment for any couple, and the changes can be tricky to navigate.
If you’re in the midst of raising children, you may not be feeling quite as close to your spouse as you did in the earlier years. Maybe you’re even operating more like roommates or business partners than like husband and wife.
Many couples experience this. We all know that parenting demands a lot of time and attention, especially when kids are young. And when you add that to the mix of work, household responsibilities, church, or other activities, you may feel that you don’t have much energy left to focus on your spouse.
The problem is, when parents consistently neglect their own relationship, it negatively affects the whole family.
Why Is It Such a Big Deal?
So maybe we’re a little out of sync now, you may think. When the kids are older, we’ll get it together. And when they move out, we’ll have a lot more time to focus on us. But it’s not always that simple.
The divorce rate among couples aged 55-64 has more than doubled since 1990, and relationship counselor Julia Hogan has observed one issue time and time again. “Couples will pour all their energy into raising their children, while neglecting each other in the process,” she says. And after the kids are gone? “The spouses feel like strangers in the emptiness. They no longer have a united mission.”
Though it may sound counterintuitive, keeping your marriage a high priority is ultimately better for the kids, too. In fact, maintaining a healthy marriage relationship is one of the best gifts you can give them.
When they see the two of you relating to each other with love and respect, they will feel more secure. And, they’ll be more likely to have healthy relationships in the future.
Here are some ways to make your marriage a higher priority while you’re raising kids:
Send Them to Bed
Set regular bedtimes for the kids. And make them early enough so that you and your spouse have a little time to yourselves in the evening to reconnect.
Take a few minutes each day to check in with each other, maybe just after the kids have gone to bed. You could each share the high and low point of your day and discuss any upcoming plans.
Say “I love you” every day, in front of the kids. And hug and hold hands often—sure, the kids may make faces if you do, but secretly they’ll be glad. You will be too.
Take Time to Be Physically Intimate
Sex is another great way to strengthen the bond between you. It’s worth making time for, even if you have to schedule it to make sure it happens. Regular sexual intimacy can reduce friction from stress, bring a deep sense of security, and help the two of you feel more united.
Go on Dates
Make regular plans to leave the kids with a sitter and go out. Your date doesn’t have to be expensive; it’s the time together that counts. Take a walk, go for ice cream, or take in a high-school football game together. And try not to let the kids be your sole topic of conversation!
If you are people of faith, make it a daily habit to pray together—and not just at mealtimes. This one action can make an enormous difference in your relationship. Couples who pray together regularly say they feel more connected, which helps them work through tough issues. Take a few minutes to thank God for the blessings He’s given your family, pray for each other, and ask for His help with any needs or concerns.
Set Boundaries with the Kids
We want our kids to know we love them, but good parenting doesn’t mean catering to their every whim. A book like Boundaries with Kids may offer help in this area. The main thing is that children need to know they are loved, but that you and your spouse are the “captains of the ship,” not them.
Make Decisions Together
Discuss important decisions together and listen to one another’s opinions. Figure out how you want to approach parenting issues, and support each other within that system.
Discuss Tense Topics
Author David Code told Parents.com, “Many couples believe their marriage is strong because they rarely argue. But the real marriage killer is when we distance ourselves from our spouse to keep the peace: We throw ourselves into parenting or work to avoid dealing with issues that cause conflict.”
Though it’s not always easy, it’s crucial to find time to sit down and calmly discuss any issues before they grow into larger problems. Otherwise, resentment will fester and create distance between you.
But Try Not to Sweat the Small Stuff
Ten years from now, will it really matter that much if she left the cap off the toothpaste or he left his dirty socks on the floor? Even though you’re both busy and tired, try to let the small things go when you can. Or, at least discuss them at a time when you’re both rested and calm.
Take time to let your spouse know you appreciate them. Even if it’s just a simple “thank-you” for taking out the trash or cooking dinner, a little kindness can go a long way.
Find Activities You Can Enjoy Together
Maybe you and your spouse already share some interests or hobbies. If not, you may want to brainstorm and come up with something you’d enjoy pursuing together. It can even be a family activity, but it should be something you can enjoy even after the kids are grown and gone.
Dream Together about the Future
Spend time—maybe during some date nights—sharing your passions, aspirations, and dreams. Talk about individual desires and shared goals. Even if you don’t have time or money to do something right now, create a plan to work toward a special trip or some other future goal. You’ll find some fantastic conversation starters here.
During the challenging years of parenting, try to keep in mind that you and your spouse are a team. On days when you drive each other crazy, take time to stop and remember when you first dated. Remind yourself of the qualities you love about them.
You began this adventure called “marriage” with this person for a reason. If you both treat your relationship as the gift that it is, you’ll reap the rewards for years to come.
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