Balancing Parenting With Your Intimate Relationship
I’m regularly struck by the parallels between what children need and what adults need. I guess we are all just people.
Just as children feel internal satisfaction when people notice their qualities and positive habits, so do adults feel nurtured when compliments are about their personal attributes and ways of being. For instance, while a compliment about appearance is sweet, it is more meaningful to offer one about qualities such as patience, the ability to maintain equilibrium, the dedication to self-care, sense of humor, graciously pitching in, etc. These kinds of observations make a person feel noticed and valued. These seemingly small comments are more meaningful to your spouse or partner than you might realize. Researchers at the Gottman Institute agree: they say that “over 40 years of research with thousands of couples has proven a simple fact: small things often can create big changes over time.” I think that expressions of appreciation for each other are one of the small things that create big change. Luckily, it is easy to incorporate such expressions even as you are raising your children.
Some of the articles in the following list suggest getting professional support, either in a couples group or in couples counseling, even if you’re not in crisis. There are statistics that show that getting outside support helps couples stay happily together as they raise their children. I agree! Marriage counseling is extremely helpful, if for no reason other than it causes you to set aside time to talk to each other. A good counselor can help you listen to each other, and can help you talk together more effectively.
To begin my search on this topic, I first googled how to balance marriage and parenting, and a very lengthy list of articles popped up. This is only some of them. Happy Reading!
First Things First has a library of articles on parenting, marriage, and friendship. This article is specifically about balancing an intimate relationship with parenting, and there are others about related topics such as date night.
This article from Parents magazine has some wise ideas about how to stay connected even after bringing children into your family. My favorite is to stay in touch throughout the day, so you each know the other is thinking about you. Others are to share decision-making and find an equitable division of labor.
Another one from Parents, on how to keep your connection with your spouse/partner even if you can’t get out on a date.
And another, with very practical ways to meet common problems:
How to Balance Your Marriage While Raising Your Kids, from LiveAbout, has some surprisingly doable ideas for prioritizing your marriage.
How to Balance Marriage and Parenting from WikiHow has some of the same ideas as other articles do, but a couple of surprising ones, like doing chores together.
How to Make Marriage Work (After Having Kids)
I really like this one from Parenting because it has a little philosophical introduction, and it’s funny!
The Marriage Factor
This article from Parenting draws from the work of John Gottmann, Ph.D., and E. Mark Cummings, Ph.D., among others. It is not just a list of tips, it is a collection of ideas to think about.
How to Keep Parenthood From Making Your Marriage Miserable
You have to read a few pages to get to the heart of this encouraging article from The Atlantic, the “ten aspects of contemporary social life and relationships -- such as marital generosity, good sex, religious faith, thrift, shared housework, and more -- that seem to boost women's and men's odds of successfully combining marriage and parenthood.”
After my Google search, I visited The Gottman Institute’s website: https://www.gottman.com/about/the-gottman-method/
The Gottman’s are a renowned research team, who happen to be married to each other, that conducts “research that increases the understanding of relationships and adds to the development of interventions that have been carefully evaluated. It is [their] goal to make….services accessible to the broadest reach of people across race, religion, class, culture, sexual orientation, and ethnicity.” Their studies focus on marriage, parenting, and families. Visit their website, above, to learn more about their approach and aspects of what they call the "Sound Relationship House." (Trust, Commitment, Creating Shared Meaning, Making Life Dreams Come True, Managing Conflict, Taking a Positive Perspective, Turning Towards Instead of Away, Sharing Fondness and Admiration, and Building Love Maps).
There are many, many resources available through Gottman.com, but here are a few articles that will give you a taste of their approach along with some practical ideas:
10 Questions Happy Couples Are Constantly Asking One Another
from Verily Magazine
This one is about famous couples who promote marriage counseling, in an effort to mitigate the stigma about it, and the cultural belief that people have to struggle on their own:
Public Figures Go to Couples Therapy, Too
By Michael Fulwiler
This very short article specifically addresses how to balance child-raising and maintaining your relationship with your partner. It is refreshingly simple:
4 Ways Parents Can Balance Couple Time and Family Time
by Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
You can also subscribe to The Marriage Minute, twice-weekly words of wisdom about little ways to support your intimate relationship in spite of all the competing priorities. It provides links to articles, too. I think just having this show up in your inbox is a little push to remind you to tend to your relationship even while giving so much to your children.
Here is a recent “marriage minute” about kindness (as I was adding this particular “marriage minute" to this page, my husband brought me a simple breakfast of soft-boiled eggs. A little thing that cost him a few minutes, but meant so much to me!):
"Before you say something to your partner, first ask yourself, “Is it kind?”
If the answer is no, then don’t say it. Or say it in a different way.
Sounds simple, right? It’s not, especially during an argument.
“Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger,” Julie Gottman explains, “but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.”
Treat your partner like they’re someone you love."
With the same “Marriage Minute” came links to related articles:
Masters of Love: Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity
By Emily Esfahani Smith
How to Be Kind When You’re Upset With Your Partner
By Sanaa Hyder, M.S.Ed.
5 Ways to Make Small Gestures Count in Your Marriage
by Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM THE OCTOBER, 2019 DISCUSSION ON THIS TOPIC:
What relationship-strengthening practices do you already do?
*Little and big kindnesses
*Individualized help: ie early riser brings coffee to struggling riser!
*Notice each other!
*Do something together
*Escape! Mentally & physically (see below for ideas on what it takes to escape).
*Taking trips or doing things together that can’t be done w/ the kids, to remind you of “before-times.” Re-create. Feel nostalgic. Very connecting.
*Re-train (de-program) yourselves to behave as if you didn’t have children, when you’re out on a date: you don’t have to eat so fast!
*Time apart to have a chance to miss each other.
*Take turns with the kids to support from each other to do things as an individual/alone; tag team, let your partner go for a while. This is situational based on who needs what.
*Give mate a chance to get refreshed and then be better able to participate in parenting.
*Use the Couples Adventure Scratch-off Book. It helps with the dead brain when it comes to planning your outings. https://www.theadventurechallenge.com/products/couples-edition-april-2019-pre-order or
*Protect your physical, emotional and mental time & space from your children by setting boundaries when having conversations: “I hear you but we’re talking now; I’ll listen to you in a few minutes.” You’re modeling for your children how to prioritize the relationship, too. Maybe you keep kids in another room for the time you need. You might need to break the habit of letting them interrupt. That's hard because you want to acknowledge them!
*Balance time as individuals with your time together as a couple.
*Family time is more nurturing for some people than time alone. People need different things.
*Keep a sense of humor!
Here, we side-stepped to discuss what it takes to escape:
$ It can be expensive!
Thinking about logistics
Consistent childcaregiver: create a reliable system that you don’t have to set up every time.
Consider a “cooperative” with other parents. Share a babysitter. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Challenges to tending your relationship: why is it so hard?! And Solutions!
Finances. It can be expensive to get a babysitter and go do an activity together
Draw on outside resources: use family and friends.
“Farm” the kids out for an extended time with a known person to reduce your cost and worry.
Or farm them out just for an evening, but you don’t have to go out. Have a relaxing evening at home.
Trade with friends.
Form a “cooperative” and take turns caring for each other’s children.
Energy! Or the lack of it…..
Have the babysitter do more of prep for leaving, like kids’ dinner, dishes, etc.
Take turns taking naps or sleeping in.
Fortify yourself with whatever works for you: take care of yourself!
Prioritize your own well-being; this is good modeling for your children, too.
Use a familiar person who is trained for your family
Take turns taking breaks to come back refreshed.
Find a way to be held accountable for actually doing activities (i.e. commit by buying a ticket or signing up for something or making a date with an external person or group) so that you’re less likely to decide not to do it because you’re too tired.
Ask for help or accept offers of help when people make them!
Don’t force yourself if you really don’t want to go out.
Farm kids out to someone who will have them for a significant chunk of time.
Stick with familiar to keep it simple.
Routinize time out without the kids. This is easier if you have a turn-taking arrangement with friends.
Managing the various relationships: finding 1:1 time with each kid and with each other.
Match expectations: maybe the kids don’t expect to have time with you. Maybe they’d just as soon be with their sibs, all together!
Acknowledge the current state of things: who has the greatest need? Temporarily put yourself on the back burner. Or the kids!
Think about the long term: if MOST of the time you prioritize your relationship, it’ll survive if you sometimes have to put it on the back burner.
Check in with each other to be sure you’re on the same page/aware of each other’s needs/desires.
Check your “levels.” Don’t let your tank get empty!
Teach your kids what you need! They can contribute, too.
Can’t remember who you are!
Think of yourself outside of your parental role. Remember who you are and what you like to do/be when you’re not with your kids.
Treat yourself to time alone, doing even ordinary things (like grocery shopping), with no responsibility for anyone else. You don’t always have to use that time to do something “important!”
Helpful Books/resources for strengthening your relationship with your spouse/partner
If you have a resource to add to this list, please email Becky at email@example.com, or add it to the blog!
The Couples Adventure Scratch off Book. It helps with the dead brain when it comes to planning your outings. https://www.theadventurechallenge.com/products/couples-edition-april-2019-pre-order or https://www.theadventurechallenge.com/
Mindful Loving: 10 Practices for Creating Deeper Connections. By Henry Grayson, PH.D.
Anything by the Gottmans, including their website: https://www.gottman.com/about/the-gottman-method/