“Couple time? Seriously? Who can do that!” . . .
Kids. We love ’em… a lot! But in today’s fast-paced, child-centered world of endless Little League games, soccer matches, dance lessons, birthday parties, homework, etc., they don’t leave parents much time to be with each other. If you’re a parent, you may find yourself searching for a marital counselor because in the course of being super parents, you and your spouse have begun feeling the effects of allowing your relationship to fall to the bottom of your priority list. Your kids may be getting some great experiences, but you as a couple are now paying the unintended but nonetheless very real price of marital disconnection.
It’s a common delimma: how to prioritize our kids’ needs with those of ourselves and our relationship. It’s difficult – there are only so many hours in the day and we don’t want to short change our kids, so we put ourselves last. But perhaps we would choose differently if we knew what a Harvard professor discovered years ago.
Several decades ago, a Harvard professor, Dr. Burton White, took a rare, longitudinal look at the parenting styles of families with successful children and compared them to the parenting habits of similar families with less successful kids. The main finding of this study? In his book, The First Three Years of Life, Dr. White reports that parents of successful children differed primarily from parens of lesser successful kids in their tendency to consider their own needs as parents just as important as were their children’s’ needs. Not more important, but not less, either. Turns out, kids raised in an environment that teaches them how to handle the frustration of not getting their needs met 24/7, actually do better in many ways than those who are otherwise indulged. Many parents reading this will know opposite this finding is to what happens today where parents are subtly expected to place their children’s’ needs before their own.
As a marital therapist, I would add that not only do kids do better when raised in an environment that assumes parents’ needs to be equally important as the children’s, the parents benefit, as well. When parents put their individual needs and those of their relationship on par with their kids’, they give themselves the opportunity to carve out the critical time they need to nurture themselves and their relationship. And this is critical, yes? Parents are caregivers and caregivers can’t do their job unless their own needs are being at least somewhat met!
Relationship Tips for Busy Parents
You don’t need a professional to tell you how tough it is to find the time to nurture your own relationship and care for your kids while simultaneously meeting the demands of one, if not two stressful jobs at the same time. Clearly some degree of conscious planning is needed to make this happen on any regular basis.
Now, some couples balk at the idea of scheduling intimacy. These couples suffer from the “myth of spontaneity” — the notion that even when their lives are completely overscheduled, somehow the time to connect will, or, if they are truly “in love”, should effortlessly appear the way it did before they became parents.
Typically it doesn’t, and then they blame each other rather than acknowledging the reality of their busy lives. Tic tock, tic tock, time passes and before long, you have major case of “couple disconnect”, landing you both in my office or that of some other professional.
So it’s important to But even with a jam-packed schedule of soccer games, dance recitals and work deadlines, there are ways you can co-create regular, mutually valued and protected moments that will help keep you connected.
SIMPLE RELATIONSHIP TIP #1: Create scheduled “Couple Contact” moments.
Work together to come up with one or more ideas of time-limited experiences you can schedule to occur on a somewhat regular basis. Plan a weekly date (even at home), a nightly “decompression” talk about the day’s events, (even ten minutes, matters). Be creative about this, and BE CONSISTENT.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS:
a. Be sure you both fully agree on what the activity will be.
Have fun: propose that each of you write down 2-3 ideas of what you want to do. Now, make two copies of a list that contains all items. Each partner then give each item a score: “1” for most desired; “2” for second favorite, “3” for next, etc. When done, tally up the points and choose the item with the most points.
b. Alternate who initiates your new ritual.
Let the one whose birthday occurs first in the year initiate the activity on even numbered calendar days and the partner on odd numbered days.
c. Initiate on your day even if your partner didn’t initiate on theirs.
d. Try pairing the activity with another, regularly occurring event that is likely to happen.
Schedule couple time to occur right after the kids go down for the night, weekend mornings before they get up, when walking the dog, maybe even while sitting together watching soccer practice. “But won’t that detract from our child’s experience of us being at her game?” you ask. Maybe, but remember Dr. White’s finding: kids who are asked to understand that their parents’ needs are equally as important as theirs, actually thrive and do better than those who are allowed to always feel the center of parental attention!
e. Keep couple time POSITIVE!
Do not, under any circumstances, try to talk about a difficult topic during this “sacred time” with your partner. The goal is pleasure – talking about potentially upsetting matters is equally as important, but should be kept to another time.
f. Let your partner know how much you enjoy this time with them!
And do so in words, not just actions.
SIMPLE RELATIONSHIP TIP #2: Try using Thirty Second Pleasure Points across the day.
Ask your partner what would help them feel more connected to you if all you had were 30 seconds or less. Examples? An embrace or quick massage, a “real” kiss, a text to say “I’m thinking of you”, walking each other to the door when leaving in the morning or meeting at day’s end, a flirtatious pinch, (do this one with permission only!), dancing, giving a complement. You get the idea.
TIP FOR SUCCESS:
If you‘re one of the few couples on the planet who’ve not yet read The Five Love Languages, join the millions who have and discover your and your partner’s “love language”. And even if you have read it, maybe its time for a refresher.
Once you have a few ideas of what says “love” to your partner, don’t wait – go first and make this a priority in your day… make your partner’s “pleasure point” as important to you as is taking care of your kids. The results will maybe surprise you!
Tune in next time for more Tips for Busy Parents!