With the craziness that is parenting — rushed mornings, constantly interrupted conversations and evenings packed with activities — even the strongest relationships can start feeling more like business partnerships than love connections.
After our second daughter (who seemed to be an insomniac) was born, my husband and I suddenly realized we weren’t really in tune with each other anymore.
It was a shocking realization that required immediate action.
Like many parents, we devoted most of our energy and attention to our children. Yet, taking the time to cultivate and model a strong, healthy relationship for our daughters was important to us. So we decided to revisit what we learned in marriage and relationship workshops.
Now that we’ve welcomed a third daughter to our family, we’ll be practicing these tried-and-true pointers again.
Here’s our crib sheet for staying connected in the midst of kiddos, chaos and everyday life:
Notice and appreciate what your partner does. Even the little stuff. Even the stuff that is “his/her job” to do around the house. Acknowledging the effort with a sincere thank you helps the other person feel noticed, valued and loved.
My husband gathers the household garbage, bags the trash and rolls the garbage carts to and from the curb every week. This week, I made sure to thank him for it.
Get out and play.
Go places and have fun without the kids. No, really. Make a list of the activities you enjoyed together while dating and go do it. Or, better yet, surprise each other by taking turns planning mystery dates with new-to-you-both activities.
We’ve tried cross-country skiing, mini golf, a brewery tour, outdoor concerts and more. If you can get away for a weekend alone together, that’s even better. Acting like you’re dating again will remind you both of how much you enjoy each other’s company.
Make time for each other.
Yes, we’re all busy, and, yes, we’re tired at the end of the day. But don’t treat your partner like another item on your “to-do list.” Ask: What was the best/most challenging part of your day? Focus on really paying attention.
During these conversations, often I learn something about my husband I didn’t know or he will offer a solution I hadn’t thought of for a difficult situation. Resist the urge to jump right into advice giving and solving. Sometimes we need to vent — and don’t want to hear unsolicited solutions.
Schedule regular relationship talks, which can be like state-of-the-union meetings for your relationship.
Take turns discussing what’s going well, what you’d like to change, and plans for the future. Air any grievances, but keep it constructive.
Set a date for your talk in advance, so each person can think about what they’d like to share. (And don’t do it on date night.)
For us, long car rides work well for relationship talks, but only if the kids aren’t listening.
Encourage and support.
Everyone needs time away from the routines and responsibilities of parenting. Ensure your partner continues enjoying hobbies and maintaining friendships. Support him/her by picking up the kids or tackling bedtime and/or bath time solo.
Getting out of the house and away from the daily routine is good for everyone. You or your partner will return happier, more energetic and appreciative, maybe even recharged.
Laura Ramsborg, a freelance writer from Bloomington, adapted this relationship advice from workshops by Karen Stevensen, a private-practice therapist in the Twin Cities. Learn more at karenstevensen.com.