WHEN JUST PARENTING CHILDREN HAS TAKEN OVER YOUR LIFE AND THE RELATIONSHIP THAT STARTED YOUR FAMILY IS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND, IT’S TIME TO SAVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP.
It was all so simple when it was just the two of you. Then you got it into your heads that keeping a plant or dog alive wasn’t enough for you — now you had to go out and have a kid. And maybe not just one kid but two or three.
Now you’re swimming in school projects and after-school activities, and you’re running on the weekends to soccer practices halfway across the state. You hold the titles of not only Mom and Dad but concierge, short-order cook, housekeeper, chauffeur, personal valet and, at least in my house, human tissue.
The idea of having sex whenever you want it has been replaced by the game of trying to remember the last time you did have it. Without so much as a blink, the kids have taken over and the relationship that started it all is nowhere to be found.
The biggest lie couples tell themselves is they just have to get past this one stage the kids are going through, or something miraculous will occur when they reach a certain age. The truth is that what they leave behind is soon to be replaced by other exciting and unfortunate habits and behaviors. It will always be something. So, the time to save your marriage and see it thrive again must be, well, right now!
There are five things I work with in my relationship coaching practice that make all the difference for couples overrun by kids.
Five essential things to do in a marriage overrun by children
First things first. Chances are if your house is now Lord of the Flies, then you have zero boundaries in place as to what is OK and is not OK. You can’t get to “you” until you stabilize the patients. Be very clear what you want to see in place that will bring some order to your home. Be very clear what is not acceptable and must stop right away. Present this to your kids in an age-appropriate way and then enforce it.
Second, “no” must be no. Kids ask for things not once but a thousand times. The pattern in most homes is that if you say a bunch of no’s, they think you’re only getting closer to the yes they want. Add in some excessive whining, some additional fake tears, a bribe or two, and suddenly they’ve won … again. If you can’t learn to say no and hold the party line, then the only no you’ll be left with is your nonexistent sex life.
Third — once you’ve established boundaries and a firm grasp on no — is to support your kids with a strong sense of structure. Know what each day and evening looks like, especially when it comes to a nighttime routine. Trust me, if you can get the kids to bed at a consistent time each night and keep them in their own beds, you’ll have the chance to reconnect with your partner. Structure for the kids also means structure for you. If you’re finally getting them to bed so you can go back to work, you’re missing the point. Get your stuff done earlier so this time becomes about the two of you.
Fourth, make sure your interaction in front of the kids, and when you’re alone, includes large doses of affection and sharing of your love. Couples tend to start communicating and connecting only around logistics, especially based on their kids’ schedules. Talk about things that relate to your connection as a couple — and do so without constantly glancing down at your iPhone.
Lastly, create mommy-and-daddy time both in and out of the home. This is important for you on a number of levels. Your relationship needs to happen under your roof and not be about “getting away” so you can connect; this only further promotes that when you’re under your own roof, it’s all about work and the kids. You and your significant other may create a project or movie for them to enjoy, while you both announce that you’re going to be talking in another room. The kids also need to see that mommy and daddy have a relationship outside of them. Plans you make outside of the home are equally important so that your focus is on each other and not why it’s too quiet in the other room. And just as you’ve created boundaries and structure within the home, make sure that your plans together outside the home get this same commitment and attention. Short of a high temperature and a possible trip to the emergency room, you need to go out and make some of your own noise!