No marriage is perfect, but here is some simple advice you can use to move your marriage back to first place.
The previous article in this series “Put Your Marriage First,” gave us the why; here’s the how. And just to make us all feel better, I included some of my friends’ heart-felt admissions about our failure to put our relationship first.
1. Start small
“We decided that one night a month we would institute ‘date night in,’ get the kids to bed early and spend time alone. Our first ‘date night in’ was wonderful. We sat on the patio, shared food and wine and really connected. Four years have passed since then, and our second ‘date night in’ has yet to come!”
“Don’t stress about it,” says Jean Odwazny, licensed clinical social worker with the Child, Adolescent and Family Development Center in Lake Bluff.. “Any way you and your spouse can stay in touch during the day is a step in the right direction.” It can be as simple as sending him a funny text message or telling her you’re thinking about her. Give yourself credit for trying and temper your expectations. But stick to one rule: make it about each other and not your kids.
2. Remember, they’ll survive one night without you
“We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with dinner and a show downtown – with all four of our kids.”
Think about it. Did your parents go to every game, practice or performance? Probably not and you survived just fine.
“Too many kids are unable to self-soothe these days,” warns Odwazny. “Our goal should be to raise kids who can make themselves happy—not do everything to make them happy. Let them do their own homework, ride with a neighbor to a game, stay at home with a babysitter, even cook their own frozen pizza. The more opportunities they have to compete for themselves or succeed in school on their own, even fail, the better.”
3. When you finally have a date, don’t talk about your kids or money
“We hadn’t celebrated our anniversary for three years. Too bad our dinner fell on the same day my husband paid our property taxes, athletic fees, and the mortgage.”
Few things raise blood pressure (NOT libido) faster than talk about money. And discussing your kids while you are trying to get away from them isn’t helping matters. Talk about something that you had in common long before you had kids. “Start by connecting the thorns and roses of your day,” suggests Odwazny. “By sharing the best and worst parts of your day, you are opening the door to heartfelt, honest communication.”
4. Make time and space for intimacy
“In preparation for our summer vacation, I went and got waxed. Despite having a three-bedroom townhome, our son still slept in our bed every night.”
We all know a good sex life is critical to a healthy marriage. Whatever you have to do to get it going—whether it’s scheduling it on the calendar or investing in some good toys— can only be a positive step in the right direction.
But don’t beat yourself up if you’re falling below the statistics. “Being intimate with your partner can be as simple as holding hands in the car or snuggling in bed at night,” adds Odwazny. “Physical closeness is what’s important, so if you’re too tired or don’t have time, at least find other ways to connect physically.”
And don’t be shy in front of your kids. “Kids should see that affection is an important part of your marriage. You’re modeling what a good relationship is.”
5. Get your kids to buy in
“I remember the kids throwing a fit a few years ago when we were going on our semi-annual date night. They didn’t understand why they couldn’t go along. Now that they see a lot of their friends’ parents getting divorced, they are starting to understand the importance of us spending time together.”
“Kids need to be told and understand that mom and dad need time for each other,” says Odwazny. “There should be no excuses for the fact that your time together is important.”
And don’t forget the added benefit: couples who are happily married tend to be more in sync with parenting, and your kids will see you as a united front.
6. Try new things, together and apart
Last year The New York Times featured an article “The Happy Marriage is the ‘Me’ Marriage.” Two professors from New Jersey (Dr. Arthur Aron and Dr. Gary W. Lewandowski) explored a concept called “self-expansion” in which individuals gather knowledge and experiences through their relationship. They found that the more self-expansion you get from your partner, the stronger, more sustainable is your relationship.
“Stay engaged with your own interests and those of your partners,” suggests Odwazny. “Try new things together, even revisit activities you used to enjoy together before you had kids. Anything that keeps you focused on each other, and not your kids.”
So next time you find yourself ditching date night for your kid’s hockey game, Odwazny suggests thinking about the oxygen mask analogy. Only when you take care of you and your spouse first, can you take care of your kids.