Kids require a LOT of time and energy, which sometimes makes it easy to neglect our marriages. Here are a few of the simple habits that keep my marriage strong…even during these crazy years of parenting young kids.Some people say that the first year of marriage is the hardest.
For me, the first year of marriage was like a long, care-free honeymoon. I got to live with my best friend and hang out all the time (at least when he wasn’t working CRAZY hours for the public accounting firm he worked for at the time). It was fabulous!
See…look at us as cute little lovebirds who had no idea where our lives would take us.
Our first year as parents, on the other hand, was a much bigger challenge.
When our first son was born, we received a card from my brother that said, “Congratulations on having your world turned happily upside down.”
Boy, was that the truth. This little bundle of joy was such a blessing, but he also changed just about every aspect of my life…my body, my sleep patterns, my career…and my marriage.We went from waking up on lazy Saturday mornings and staring into each other’s eyes to waking up at all hours of the night and pretending to still be asleep in hopes that the other person would go get the baby.
We went from spontaneous Tuesday night date nights to the movies to Tuesday night Netflix marathons while I nursed a baby for the gazillioth time.
We went from discussing world issues and life goals to talking about how to get baby poop out of the couch cushions.
I LOVE my children to the moon and back, and becoming a mother fulfilled one of my deepest life-long desires…but that doesn’t change the fact that parenting is hard.
It’s draining, overwhelming, and–if you’re not careful–it can be consuming.
Because raising a family takes SO much time and energy, it can be easy to let the immediate and often LOUD needs of children overpower the quieter needs of a spouse.
But it is essential that we keep building our marriages while we’re busy raising our children.
I think we all know that cultivating our marriages is important. It’s easy to see that our families are stronger when our marriages are solid.
However, the trick is figuring out HOW to make time to strengthen your marriage when you have kids constantly pulling on your arm, begging for a snack, complaining that “It was his fault”, interrupting your conversations, asking to play a game with you, and any number of other requests.
I certainly don’t have ALL the answers (goodness knows, you can come to my house and see my three-boy circus!), but seven years into parenthood, my husband and I are still alive and we still like each other a lot.
Parenthood has stretched us in ways we never imagined or anticipated, but as we’ve kept working together through MANY mistakes, we’ve found ways to keep our marriage a priority–even while raising a young family.
The key to keeping your marriage strong after having kids
Here’s the secret I’ve discovered to keeping the flame alive: love is a choice.
No matter how in love you are on the day you say “I do”, that love will fade over time unless you make a conscious and consistent effort to strengthen it.
Years ago I read a novel (The Letter) in which one of the characters makes a powerful statement about love…one that I have never forgotten. In this moment, a wise, old man is counseling a young, floundering husband. He says:
“You talk about love like it’s a hole–something you can fall in and out of. But real love isn’t like that at all. Love is like a tree–grows if you mind it…dies if you don’t. No one stands back of a neglected tree and says, ‘Guess that tree just wasn’t supposed to live,’ but people do it all the time with their loves.”
We have the power to choose each day how we’re going to nourish the relationships that matter to us. Especially during the busy season of life when young kids are so demanding of our time and energy, it’s absolutely essential to put effort into our marriages, too.
Now, I know that none of us needs another thing to add to our to-do lists. However, it doesn’t take a grand gesture to show your spouse you love them.
Here are a few of the simple habits that have helped my marriage stay strong…even during these crazy years of parenting three young boys.
Disclaimer: I recognize that everyone’s marriage is different, and everyone has different love languages, so I’m not claiming that these habits are right for everyone. However, I hope they’ll give you an idea of something that could help your own relationship and that it will inspire you to consider how you can do simple things to connect more with your spouse.
Simple habits that create strong marriages
1. Hold hands whenever possible
Admittedly, this probably won’t be very often if you have toddlers and babies who need to be carried or herded across the street like cats. Family outings for us often feel more like a “Make Way for Ducklings” parade than a romantic stroll, BUT whenever I do get the chance, I grab my husband’s hand.
Because of a distinct memory I have of seeing my parents holding hands almost twenty years ago. I was at a friend’s house in high school working on a homecoming float, and I remember looking up from whatever it was I was painting to see my parents walking down the driveway together to come pick me up–happily strolling hand-in-hand. It was such a small thing, and I’m sure it wasn’t the only time they held hands, but that day it made an impression on me. It reminded me that my world was solid. My parents loved each other…and they loved me.
Don’t underestimate the power of a small gesture for both your spouse AND your children.
2. Go to bed together
Our nightly routine as a couple is simple, but for us it’s important. No matter what else we’ve been busy with during the day, we spend our last few minutes awake together. We’ll talk about whatever is on our minds, pray together, and snuggle close. His warmth and protection calms my mind and relaxes my body so I can go to sleep. In fact, on the rare occasion when we don’t go to bed together, I have a much harder time going to sleep. He’s pretty much my security blanket.
This time for us is precious. The responsibilities and distractions of life with three young kids means that we don’t see each other as much as we’d like. We spend a lot of the time dividing and conquering. These few minutes at the end of the day are our chance to connect…to make sure that we are living together as a married couple, and not just as roommates.
Tip: If you can’t go to bed together because of work schedules or other conflicts, find another time regularly to cuddle and connect as a couple.
3. Go to bed angry sometimes
Speaking of going to bed…ignore that famous advice about never going to bed angry. In fact, if you know you’re tired, do NOT try to have deep discussions to solve major issues in your life. It’s a bad idea.
I’ve tried. It never ends well.
In my own experience, even though I often want to talk everything out and solve the problem right then, the best solution is to go to bed.
Often, the problem doesn’t seem as big in the morning, and I am better able to come up with solutions when I’m not reeling from a long day of momming.
I know that’s hard because often late at night is the only time we have alone together with our spouses, but when you can tell you’re emotionally on edge…just go to bed. I promise, it will work out.
4. Say thank you
Gratitude is powerful. Everyone wants to feel appreciated. We, as parents, do A LOT for our families–and let’s be honest, our children aren’t always great at expressing their thanks for our efforts. But as spouses we can build each other up with a few simple words of thanks.
When was the last time you thanked your spouse for…
- going to work each day
- taking out the garbage
- helping you fold laundry
- mowing the lawn
- taking the time to really listen to you
- going on a date with you
- wrestling with the kids for a few minutes so you could go to the bathroom in peace
Long ago, my dad taught me this: people don’t need you to tell them their weaknesses. They are usually far too aware of them already. But, tell them what they are doing well, and you will inspire them to do it more often.
So, if you’re constantly annoyed that you are doing so much work around the house, look for moment your husband picked up his socks and THANK him for it. Maybe he’ll do it again.
P.S. – This one works well with kids, too.
5. Run away together–even just for an hour
Date nights are not optional in our house. With the exception of the first few months after we have a newborn, we try to get out on a date at least once or twice a month.
If you can, utilize family members to watch kids. We don’t have a lot of family nearby, so we’ve found some great teenage girls who love to babysit in order to earn a bit of extra cash. It’s totally worth the cost. If paying a babysitter isn’t in your budget, try to find another couple to swap with.
And if you absolutely cannot get a night out, try a date night at home after the kids go to bed. The Dating Divas have tons of ideas for fun date nights in and out.
Enjoy a meal without anyone complaining about “green stuff”, and have an uninterrupted conversation about something other than Legos or Paw Patrol.
However you make it happen, make date nights a priority to remind yourselves why you fell in love in the first place.
6. Leave random love notes
When we were dating, my (now) husband would sometimes leave a note tucked into the door of my car for me to find on my way to work. They were simple, short expressions of love… sometimes thanking me for a good date the weekend before.
Almost a decade later, l still occasionally find a note sitting in my car or on my pillow. I LOVE getting these little surprises.
I love to leave notes for my husband too, especially when he goes out of town. I’ll hide notes tucked in various nooks and crannies of his suitcase so he can find them over the course of his trip. It takes less than 10 minutes to do, but it makes him feel loved. (Mind you, I haven’t done this in awhile…it’s one I need to resurrect myself!)
Challenge: Write your spouse a simple love note today. Leave it in his work bag, on the steering wheel of her car, on the bathroom mirror…ANYWHERE.
7. Kiss hello and goodbye (and often in between)
I always want my husband to know that he is the most important person in the world to me. It may be a small thing, but I feel like taking the time to stop what I’m doing to kiss him goodbye in the morning and hello in the evening symbolizes my devotion to him.
When he comes home in the evening, I try to stop what I’m doing (usually trying to finish cooking dinner) for at least a few seconds to welcome him home.
It sounds silly to say, “Yes, you ARE more important than making sandwiches for the kids’ lunches” but that’s the message I’m trying to send. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it’s a little thing with a powerful message.
8. Ask for what you need–specifically
Ladies, in my experience, men want desperately to be the knight in shining armor for the women they love, but they are NOT good mind readers. If you want something…TELL HIM…kindly.
Our first Valentine’s Day together, I knew my husband (then-boyfriend) was stressed about living up to whatever unknown expectations I might have for the day of love. So, you know what I did? About a week before Valentine’s Day, while we were chatting on the couch, I just said, “Hey, I know Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I know that can be stressful for guys. Here’s what I would love to have happen that day…”
I could visibly see him relax. And you know what? He totally delivered. It DOESN’T cheapen their gift when you tell them what you want.
Sometimes, I need my husband to hold me close at the end of a rough, emotionally draining day. Sometimes, he has no idea. So I TELL him. “I need you to spend 10 minutes snuggling me and just letting me breathe away all the junk of the day.” And he does.
No mind reading. No vague hints of “I wish someone would…” or thinking “he should know.”
Just say it. You might be surprised at how willing your spouse is to jump in and do whatever you need.
What have you done to keep your marriage strong after having kids?