Who is winning the emotional tug of war in your home? Your marriage or your children?
It is way too easy for the kids to win as you go through 18 years of having them underfoot. It’s unintentional, of course, because none of us starts out parenting with the purpose of putting our marriage on the back burner of life simply because we have a child or two or three or four.
Rather, it happens because spouses rarely demand as much from you as your kids do. Your children depend on you daily for sustenance, love, and guidance on how to navigate life.
Many couples assume that their marriage will be okay if they skip the alone time they need because they are too tired or because the kids are demanding attention for one reason or another.
The result? Parents give more attention to their children and neglect their own relationship. This may be okay if it happens once or twice, but if you are unaware of this temptation and let it become a habit, it will fester and grow and result in marriage problems.
Who Are You?
When my husband and I started a family, we decided then and there that we didn’t want to have our kids grow up, move out and leave us staring at a stranger across the dinner table. But that took intentionality, and a plan.
If you don’t want to look at your spouse some day and say “who are you?” then it’s time NOW to be purposeful in keeping your marriage a priority. Here are a few ways that my husband of 38 years and I have managed to do that as we raised three children.
Commit to a consistent date night.
This takes work and creativity. It takes paying a babysitter, re-arranging other commitments, and putting aside your desire to just sit home and veg in front of netflix.
But it is work that is well worth the effort. My husband and I have found that there is nothing quite like going out to eat and sitting across the table from each other and being intentional about our conversations.
If the budget doesn’t allow for that very often, then be creative. Go for a bike ride, walk on the beach or trail, or settle for ice cream or coffee together. It really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as what you are doing allows you time to just be a couple and to talk. (Movies are okay IF it’s accompanied by dinner or dessert).
At the beginning of each month put your dates on the calendar. I’d suggest more than one a month. In fact, weekly is best. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a big deal every time. A simple hour walk around the neighborhood can provide a great opportunity to talk. I’d much rather see a couple do a weekly hour-long walk than a monthly fancy dinner out.
Being intentional is so important for several reasons. First, just the fact that you are purposing to do this reminds you that your marriage is important. Second, even if you don’t think you have big issues to discuss, it’s good to just listen and check up on how your spouse is doing and what they are feeling about their job or parenting or whatever is going on in their life. And lastly, being intentional communicates to your spouse in a very tangible way: I love you.
When the kids are little, set a consistent bedtime and do your best to stick to it when you are at home. When they get older, don’t hesitate to shut the master bedroom door and say “Mom and Dad need to talk” or do whatever.
Don’t let your kids override your time with each other. Barring emergencies, of course. They may not like it in the moment, but they will see later the importance of what you did.
My 30-year-old son got married a couple of weeks ago and on the wedding day, he wrote us a letter. One of the things he thanked his dad for was that Ted set an example of how to pursue his wife. He saw that our relationship was a priority and he carries that model with him into his marriage.
My husband and I had premarital counseling and honestly I don’t remember a lot of what we talked about, but one thing that we remembered and have practiced for 38 years is this advice: when we come back together at the end of a work day, we take some moments to get on the same page, a sort of daily check-in.
Before kids that was easy. We’d both come in the door from work, sit down for a few moments and talk about our days. Learning what each other had been through since we last saw each other gave us better understanding of our moods.
After kids came and as they grew, we had to be very intentional, flexible and creative. Sometimes those check-ins happened as we were driving to a child’s sports event, sometimes they came after the kids were in bed, and sometimes we simply said, “kids, dad and I have to talk; give us a few minutes alone.”
Understanding why Ted may have been grumpy or tired and vice versa saved us many arguments I’m sure. Those daily checkins have become a lifelong habit with us, even to this day when there are no kids around to distract us from each other.
Stay on the Same Page in Your Parenting
One of the biggest problems I’ve seen in working with parents is that they are not on the same page when it comes to parenting.
This is often due to the fact they come from different backgrounds and were raised by two different parenting styles. However, this is a hurdle that can be overcome with consistent communication between mom and dad.
You may not always agree with your spouse when it comes to a parenting issue, but it’s important to keep a united front. Otherwise, your kids will pit you against each other to get what they want. Take your disagreements about how to parent behind closed doors and hash them out. Come to a resolution and THEN proceed with parenting.
Support each other in front of your kids when it comes to parenting decisions. This nurtures their inner sense of security as they feel the strength of their parents’ relationship.
“Kids whose parents’ relationship has cooled are more likely to have behavioral or academic problems than kids of happy couples,” claims Philip Cowan, PhD, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
A Good Marriage is Good for the Kids
It’s easy to fall into the trap of making our children the center of our world, but your marriage needs just as much nurturing. On top of that, remember that focusing on your marriage is good for your kids.
Think of your relationship as the emotional environment in which your kids live. Just as you want them to breathe clean air and drink pure water, you want them to grow up in a loving atmosphere. (parents.com)
If this is a struggle for you right now, I want to help. Schedule a free intro call here and let’s talk.