So, how was your (MOM!) day hon? How’d (DAD—HE HIT ME!) that presentation (MOOOM!) go? Okay, just take him upstairs for a bath, I’ll stay with—STOP HITTING YOUR SISTER!—her down here and do some homework. (GO AND GET YOUR BACKPACK PLEASE, FOR THE THIRD TIME!) Let’s just talk about our day later okay? Oh, right, my mom’s coming over later, well, talk to you (DAAAADD!) whenever I guess?
Sound familiar? If you’re a parent with young children, sometimes even just catching up with your spouse at the end of the day can take Olympic-worthy efforts, so it’s no surprise that sometimes a parent’s actual coupledom gets sidelined. But as it turns out, it’s especially important during this time in life that you do stay connected as a couple.
“Children are very demanding in terms of our time and energy, and given this, it is easy to pour our energy into our children and to let go of our partners,” says Dr. Lori Limacher, a Calgary-based couples and family therapist. “And this can be a risk zone for a couple. If anything, it can be revitalizing to remember and reconnect with our “adult” self and connecting with our partners we can be needy, we can be cared for too.”
So aside from pulling a Tiny Fey/Steve Carell-style Date Night, how can we stay connected as a couple during this frenetic time in life? Try these six tips to keep the adult love in the house going.
1. Take it in small doses: Reconnection doesn’t always have to be about grand, romantic gestures, says Dr. Limacher. “Instead, these moments can be small, and yet very fulfilling,” she says. “So focus on creating opportunities to listen and touch our partners–like we do with our children.” That means a 10-minute eyes-only-focused-on-each other-truly-listening-chat could actually be more fulfilling than trying to squeeze in an hour of catch up time at the end of every night. Go for small meaningful moments if that’s all you have time for right now.
2. Show off your coupledom: Family movie night doesn’t always have to exclude two-some time. “So when you’re watching TV, don’t always let the children sit between you,” says Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem, a Burlington, Ont.-based marriage and family therapist. “Snuggle together and tell the kids they can choose a side or sit elsewhere. This lets your spouse know you want physical closeness and you are prepared to take that as a priority once in awhile. Children need to learn parents have a special relationship they are not part of.”
3. Crank up the tunes: “Music stimulates a part of the brain with emotional connections,” says Barnicke Belleghem. “So play music that has shared memories and even if the kids want to dance about or are off in bed, you’re connecting because you value the health of your relationship.”
4. Kill the technology: “Often our habitual form of relaxation or self-soothing takes the form of technology—turning on the TV, surfing the Internet, etc,” says Dr. Limacher. “Instead have one day a week where you decide that after the kids go to bed, there’ll be none of that. Instead you share some wine, a foot rub, a back rub. Or if the kids are still up, have a walk with the children together, only you walk as a couple.”
5. Force the connection: “At the end of each day, find something in your day to share with your spouse,” says Barnicke Belleghem. “And this needs to be separate from responsibilities including children. It might be a news item or an observation like the way the world seems darker after the Christmas lights and decorations come down. This is a task to do as an intentional effort to stay in their adult selves and to connect as a couple.”
6. Get playful “Flirt with your spouse,” says Barnicke Belleghem. “Children don’t understand adult inferences and jokes so make eye contact and openly flirt.” Remember the basics of good flirting—eye contact, showing interest and light touching.