I read once that the lowest marriage satisfaction rate is right around the time when your kiddos start school. Of course, there’s a ton of speculation as to why, and having seen a similar trend in my clients, I’ve got some thoughts on the subject.
In a “this should shock no one” revelation, of the main drivers to marital dissatisfaction is a lack of intimacy. Yet for those first 5 or 6 years after having a kid, we tell ourselves that our full focus should be on our children. We actually expect there to be a lack of intimacy, and so we readily push aside our needs and sacrifice everything “for the sake of the children.”
But see, then the children head off to school. We parents gets all weepy and then wake from our kid-encompassing fog and begin to ruminate on how much time has slipped away and “what next.”
In time, we turn to our partners for comfort. But the person sitting across the dining room table, the one you’ve cohabitated with for the past 5 years, is now a bit of a stranger. The bond is often rather broken. The comfort you seek is a bit strained. At this point couples realize that the relationship for years has been about relating everything to and through the kids, and they’ve left no time for the actual partner relationship to thrive.
Don’t let parenting break your bond as a couple
As time passed, our marriages lays suffering, shriveling more with each year and eventually becoming unrecognizable. For anyone who has ever tried to resuscitate a dying plant, we know the longer it goes without care, the harder it is to recover. And though it is possible to repair once the advance stages of relationship decay are upon us, it’s so much easier if you take the steps early on to avoid it.
But I hear you. I know that taking the time for intimacy when you have young children can feel like a request to cure cancer. Sure, it never starts out that way. But let’s be honest. For many folks, trying to get snuggly when you have little ones is a bit like trying to ride a roller coaster at a theme park on a holiday weekend. You start out really excited to go, but then you spend 3 hours in line in sweltering heat amidst an army of irritable strangers only to get on the thing for 10 seconds and it’s over. Voila. You didn’t even get to enjoy it. You do that enough, and well, after some point the thought of going makes you want to rip out your fingernails. Maybe some other time, you say. On a Tuesday. In the winter. After the apocalypse. Just the thought of expending the energy makes you plop onto the couch in your jammies and call it a night. But love won’t grow unless you feed it, and your relationship WILL die if you don’t tend to it. Sometimes, you gotta suck it up and go to the park anyway, just to keep from losing your zest.
And if you do it right, if you approach the trip as a fun adventure no matter what the day brings, it will be.
Here’s are a few tips:
⦁ Banish the children
(Whispers) at least for at least a few hours. Look, I know it sounds harsh. Parents often get a bit neurotic about sending kids somewhere overnight or for the weekend, especially when kids are young. I’ve heard it all.
“They’ll miss us too much!”
“But she/he lets them eat brownies for dinner!”
“They’ve never spent a night on their own!”
Listen and repeat after me. The kids will be fine. One weekend a month without your presence isn’t going to irreparably damage them. And using their “needs” as a way to avoid getting intimate (because you’re too tired, not “feeling” it, etc) is ridiculously unhealthy and will only raise more issues later (if this is you, I might suggest giving someone like me a call). The gains received by you and your spouse bonding far outweigh any ruined diets.
⦁ Ohhh, afternoon delight
‘Twas was more than just a catchy tune and a great scene in Anchorman. The afternoon delight can be a recipe for relationship success. Most parents can grab lunch together at least once a week if they really tried (yes, that meeting really CAN wait). And getting one on one time when kids are in school or daycare could be just the hour a week that makes or breaks your relationship. And think about it. Stealing away in the middle of the day can also have the added benefit of helping take the “mundane-ness” out of the normal relationship intimacy. Being at the arcade was waaaay more cool on the days you ditched school (If my parents are reading this, it’s just an example. Of course *I* never skipped….). Same fun factor applies when you’re grown, but without a phone call from the principal.
⦁ Act teen
When we’re young and in love, every chance we get becomes an opportunity for physical contact. We steal 10 seconds in an elevator, a minute as we wait for the bus. But when we become adults, we lose that sense of frivolity. We tend to keep the physical stuff for the bedroom, and then for only when we have sex. However, those little touches – those mini make out sessions – are exactly what’s needed to maintain that sense of intimacy in our relationships. So take chances to snuggle and caress whenever you can, no matter how little time is available.
Being a parent doesn’t put a moratorium on your relationship. I know sometimes we wish it did, because the demands of our kids and our jobs and our friends can often leave us little time and energy to put toward our partners. But our needs for companionship don’t change just because there are little ones in the house. Our basic human needs – to be touched, to be heard, to be loved – exist no matter what phase of life we’re in. Yes, our partners should be sensitive to our energy levels, our moods, and our strains. No, you should never have to feel like you must acquiesce to sex. But every relationship, no matter how strong, needs to be nourished. We need to make time to replenish that bond with our partners. Because at the finality of our lives, it will be the memories of that roller coaster, not the ones spent avoiding it, that will be with us in the end.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.