It’s a too-familiar story. James and Cindy have come in for couples counseling because they worry they have grown apart. With three children under the age of 12, they want to see if they can salvage their marriage. They can’t imagine breaking up the family even though they feel they are breaking up.
Cindy is tearful. When asked the last time she felt close to James, she says it was probably shortly after the youngest was born. Since then, there seems to be no time for them as a couple. She misses him. She says she loves the active, energetic household and all the kids’ activities. She loves her job. She does love James. How on earth do other people hold onto romance when there is so much to do in a day?
James, for his part, also enjoys his kids and the hubbub that comes with family life. He coaches the eldest’s soccer team on Saturday mornings and takes his two daughters to swim team practices when he can. He feels somewhat guilty that he can’t find more time to be with Cindy but resents it that she isn’t more understanding. He’s doing the best he can to do his job and be a dad. He says that other than the kids, he doesn’t think they have much in common anymore.
This marriage is drowning in parenting. What has evolved is a child-centered arrangement that is working for the kids but not for the adults. Jobs, household chores and the children’s activities have crept into every available minute of every day. The only time the couple gets to see each other alone is during the few minutes before they go to sleep, when they are exhausted. These people are great parents and effective partners in the business of being a family, but they have lost much of the connection with each other.
Though understandable, it’s still a big problem. The foundation of their family, their couple-ness, is crumbling. They don’t talk about much of anything except the kids’ issues, what house repairs have to be done or bills have to paid, and who is going where with whom. They have become less and less physically intimate. They aren’t fighting. They just don’t have much to say to each other that couldn’t be said to the babysitter or the plumber. Sadly, the kids aren’t getting to see an affectionate, involved partnership as a role model for what a relationship should be like. Instead, they are experiencing their parents as being separate and lonely.
If all this sounds familiar, know that you aren’t alone. Most families require more than one income to stay financially afloat. That means that both members of the couple are juggling schedules, chores, and childcare. Reconnecting takes a re-evaluation of priorities and making some changes. To preserve and grow their relationship, the adults need to take care of their own needs as well as their children’s.
6 Ways to Reconnect with Your Partner
A few simple but important changes can shift the focus from the children back to the couple – at least enough of the time to re-establish parents as loving mates.
- Establish a date night.
We can only be romantic if there is time for romance. Set aside one evening a week for date night. If possible, get a sitter and go out. If you can’t afford a sitter, consider swapping off child care with a friend or starting a childcare co-op. If even that doesn’t work, stay in but put a boundary around time together. Get a movie the kids will enjoy. Set them up with popcorn and tell them they can’t bother Mom and Dad while they have dinner unless someone is bleeding or the house is on fire. Drawing a circle around a few hours a week demonstrates to the kids that the couple is important. Spending that time together gives you and your spouse time to reconnect.
- Reconsider the kids’ schedules.
In James’s and Cindy’s case, each child had three different activities outside of school. That’s a total of nine different activities times the number of hours per week each one required. We counted it up. The couple was spending almost 32 hours a week transporting and witnessing kid-events. No wonder they had no time for each other! By cutting back to two activities per kid per week, they freed up 10 hours to do other things.
- Balance tag-teaming with couple time.
To keep child care costs down, James and Cindy were often taking turns at parenting so each could pursue their own interests. It’s certainly fair. It does let each person have some time to be with his or her own friends. But if it isn’t balanced with couple time, tag-teaming can mean the couple primarily sees each other during hectic hand-offs of the kids.
- Find an activity you can enjoy together.
It can be anything from serving on a town committee to hiking or dancing to participating in a class or club. Or you might want to find a way to spend regular adult time with adult friends. You need something to talk to each other about besides the children’s activities and whether the lawn needs mowing this weekend.
- Make bedtime an intimate time.
Shut down computers and outside work one-half hour to one hour prior to bedtime. Use that time as couple time. You can decompress, talk, cuddle, give each other a backrub or be sexually intimate. One-half hour may not seem like much, but the daily ritual can be an important affirmation of your caring for each other. There’s something about spending together time at the very end of the day that lends itself to closeness.
Please don’t get caught up in the idea that being a loving couple and spending time together should be spontaneous. Modern family life doesn’t allow for much spontaneity, however much we might like the idea. Couples, like gardens, appliances and friendships, take maintenance. That means some planning.
James and Cindy got a wake-up call. They were able to reconnect and to reorder their lives. Making daily space in their schedules to be close to each other helped them rediscover the many good things that brought them together in the first place.