The story is far too common. We fall in love. We get married. We start a family. Yet once the kids come along, we throw ourselves completely into being the best parents we can be, to give our children everything we didn’t have growing up. We forget that a lifetime ago we once stood before a preacher and promised to be a husband and a wife forever.
We pass each other in the kitchen, one on their way to work, the other trying to feed the kids. Our lives revolve around school projects, carpools, and sports activities. We believe the myth of parenting that the more attention and material goods we give our kids, the better they will become as adults. Turns out that this parenting approach has yielded an entire generation of kids who are more lost, entitled and needy perhaps than ever before.
What kids need most is a loving, stable home. What your marriage needs most is you. Experts agree that if you prioritize your children over your marriage, you are hurting both. Keeping your marriage strong and peaceful ensures your child’s long-term wellbeing and prepares them for stable future relationships. It also protects husbands and wives from drifting apart and potentially divorcing once the children leave the nest.
Though creating a thriving marriage is certainly not easy, there are practices we can embrace that will keep the spark alive and build greater intimacy and satisfaction.
Make time each day to talk to each other— Having 15-20 minutes to talk with each other every day is key to maintaining a thriving relationship. This isn’t conversation about the kids. This isn’t time to criticize or argue. This is conversation about ourselves as individuals, that allows us to unwind with each other while sharing the things that are on our hearts and minds.
Perhaps it is time spent on the back porch each evening after dinner, letting the kids know this is “mom and dad” time. We can teach our children that they can play quietly in their rooms and learn to take care of themselves while mom and dad take care of themselves, too. If children are old enough to be left alone, we may discover the enjoyment of a walk together in the evening. We might also find our favorite time with our spouse is first thing in the morning, sharing with each other over a warm cup of coffee, before the day takes off. There is no right or wrong.
Get creative. Find a time in the day that works for you. It’s amazing how conversation can help us stay connected to each other and grow a deeper, stronger bond.
Make physical contact at least twice per day – It’s the touch. The kiss. The embrace that marks the beginning or ending of the day. It’s one hand reaching for the other, just because. Touch is one of the most beautiful and primal forms of communication that convey a depth of understanding, empathy, and love. Rick Chillot, in “The Power of Touch,” calls touch “the secret weapon in many a successful relationship.”
When couples show affection or make time for physical touch, it makes them feel more secure and trusting towards each other as well as reduces stress.2 Whether a flirty gesture, or a re-assuring embrace, we need these moments to remember that we are a we, not an I, that we are better and stronger together, that in the straps and struggles of life, we are one. Each touch reminds us that we are not alone. Each touch is a sacred communion that echoes how we’d do it all over again.
Make time to play together as a couple each week – Many couples have simply been reduced to the roles and responsibilities of parenting. We somehow forgot how we fell in love in the first place. We forgot how to share. We forgot how to flirt. We certainly forgot how to play.
Couples need down time where they can be together and rediscover each other. Time for play makes us feel relaxed and safe in each other’s presence. If we don’t get that time, we stop connecting or communicating well. We grow less understanding, less compassionate. Over time we look up to find a gaping distance between us, an unlikely chasm that makes it more difficult for us to walk through life together, much less to successfully work through life and the challenges it can bring.
Whether it’s taking a hike, visiting the local farmer’s market, or just watching a favorite tv show together, having time each week that is not about running errands, taxiing kids, or doing chores around the house is crucial to a successful relationship. You can co-op childcare with a close neighbor or friend, make lunch-date plans while the kids are in school. You can even create a date-night at home once per week, after the kids are put to bed. Use your imagination to find the opportunities that work best for your and your mate.
Don’t wait for it to happen. Don’t put it off until life slows down. Don’t delay until the kids are older. Now is the time to fan the flames, or perhaps reignite the spark between you and your spouse. Your marriage needs it and your children need it. When your children are grown, they won’t remember that you missed a soccer game. They will remember that their home was safe and strong, and that mom and dad were devoted to one another and deeply in love. That is the greatest gift you could ever give them. It is the greatest gift you could give yourselves.
 Rick Chillot, “The Power of Touch,”1 Psychology Today. March 11, 2013, https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201302/the-power-touch.
2 Norine Dworkin-McDaniel, “Touching Makes You Healthier,” Health.com. January 5, 2011 8:05 a.m.http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/05/touching.makes.you.healthier.health.