After you become parents for the first time, you may find that, along with everything else, your marriage has suddenly become uncharted territory. Where you once had seemingly endless amounts of time to spend together, you now have hurried moments between feedings and changings, fighting exhaustion and any number of other distractions you didn’t have previously. Where your relationship once seemed easy and uncomplicated, it now takes hard work and intentionality.
My husband and I are certainly far from experts at this whole marriage thing, but we’ve been together for 12 years and I think we’ve got a pretty good thing going, even after adding a third person (soon to be four!) to our decade-long coupledom. Here are a few tips that have worked for us to keep our marriage from getting stale after having our son.
Put your kids to bed early enough to have adult time
This is probably one of the more important ones for us. Our son goes to bed every night right around 7:00 PM, which allows my husband and I to have several hours of strictly adult time to do things together that don’t involve our child. We typically wait to eat dinner until after he’s in bed, so we can sit and talk and really enjoy our meal without one of us having to cut up pieces of food to put on his tray or make sure he has enough milk in his sippy cup. Sure, we talk about him occasionally during our adult time, but without one of us having to give him our full attention, we can focus that attention on each other.
When you’re alone together, talk about things other than your kids
I remember our very first date night after our son was born. It was when he was just a couple weeks old; we went out for dinner and drinks in town while my parents watched him. I also remember very consciously trying to talk about things other than our son in our time out together, because I knew it was important to set the precedent early that we still had a relationship outside of our role as parents. We had to be really intentional in the beginning about sticking to topics other than diaper rashes and the cute new thing our son was doing that day, but in time, it became routine and welcomed to have interesting and dynamic adult conversation that didn’t revolve around the baby.
Schedule time out and stick to it
Life has a way of getting complicated when you have kids. There are a million more obligations, you’re exhausted 90% of the time and it’s easy to let date nights or time out with your spouse fall by the wayside. Don’t let it. Schedule date nights in advance and add them to your calendar, just like band practices and dance classes and those nine Frozen themed birthday parties you have to attend this month. If you don’t have family members or friends close-by to watch your kids, browse around on Care.com—they have tons of reliable sitters with references who will be happy to watch your kids for a few hours while you grab dinner and toss back a few martinis.
Don’t let your sex life be your last priority
This is a tough one and a touchy subject for some couples. After long days of working, corralling kids and schlepping bodies here, there and everywhere, sex can be the farthest thing from your mind, especially for women. But somewhere along the way, I learned that men value sex as a means of emotional validation, the way a woman values a compliment about how she looks in her new outfit or the killer meal she put on the table. I’m not saying you have to be tearing it up in the bedroom every night of the week, but don’t let too much time pass without being intimate with your spouse. It’s an incredibly important way of connecting emotionally and, unfortunately, the longer it gets neglected, the harder it can be to get back on track. Even if you’re not up for sex, make sure you still connect physically during the day, whether it’s holding hands, kissing or just sitting close to each other on the couch.
Talk about tough subjects before they become arguments
Parenting is freakin stressful. If someone tells you it’s not, they’re lying to you. Certain aspects of parenting are more stress-inducing than others, especially things like sex, money, discipline of children, etc. Broach those subjects before they become arguments, if possible. When our son was first born, I remember feeling guilty about every dollar I spent since I suddenly wasn’t a contributing member (financially) of our household. Finally, after too many stressful fights about money, we sat down and hammered out a strict budget. Since then, we’ve had zero fights about our finances and I feel like we’re completely on the same page when it comes to spending. It sucks to talk about this kind of stuff, but better to do it when you’re both levelheaded and rational instead of upset and emotional.
Be an individual in addition to a spouse
This might sound counterproductive to making a partnership work, but I think it’s equally important to invest in yourself as an individual, as it is to invest in your marriage. Have hobbies outside of your home that you do separately and cultivate interests that you’re passionate about, even if your spouse doesn’t share those same passions. Though it’s great to have shared interests, it can be stifling to have all your free time devoted to parental or spousal activities. Get involved in a church group, join a book club, meet up with friends and have a night out that doesn’t revolve around husbands and kids; just make time for you. Your marriage will be stronger if you allow yourselves to be separate and distinct people with your own interests and passions.
What are your top rules for keeping your marriage fresh after kids?