So you’ve been with your spouse for years and you feel like they’re more of a roommate than a lover, am I right? You’ve helped each other clean up explosive vomit off the floor. You’ve spent more time carpooling than you've spent at home. You’ve fallen asleep on the couch together, watching the latest Netflix offering. The spark in your marriage is not only fading, it’s taken a vacation and is nowhere to be seen.
If you find yourself longing for the pre-kid days of romantic weekend trips and late night concerts, you are not alone. These are some of the most common complaints I hear from new parent clients in my counseling office. They feel disconnected and disillusioned. Sometimes they feel like they can’t stand each other. They may be amazing co-parents, but they’re missing that lovey-dovey feeling they once had.
I get it. I’m a parent. I’ve been married for 19 years. It’s not easy to keep the spark alive after years of seeing the good, bad and ugly in each other. But it can be done. If the flame has gone completely out, it can even be re-ignited. Here are my tips for adding some kindling to the fading fire in your relationship:
Make Time for Chit Chat:
This activity doesn’t seem very amorous, but research shows that couples who chat over coffee in the morning, or review the day over a cup of tea (or better yet, a glass of wine) stay closer in the long run. No, I’m not telling you to drink beverages with your partner. I’m telling you to put down your phone, look into your spouse’s eyes, and touch base with them, at least once a week -- but hopefully every day. It doesn’t matter what you talk about, just talk! Regular check in’s help you to stay in tune with each other, which in turn, makes you feel more connected.
Find Shared Passions (that don’t involve the kids):
When you are married, life seems to organize itself into a series of projects: the two of you plan a wedding, buy a house, get pregnant, raise the kids. If couples aren’t careful, their relationship can become so wrapped up in these “projects” that they forget how to be playful and have fun together. Moms can get in the habit of going out on GNO’s with the ladies to replenish their energy banks. Dads might head to the golf course, hunting lease or poker night to refuel. These activities are great, and needed. However, it is just as important for you and your partner to find fun pastimes and hobbies that you do together. Think back to the cool activities you used to do pre-kids, or better yet try something new: a dance class, a cooking lesson or a new gardening endeavor.
I know. This sounds horrible. Romance should be spontaneous and organic, right? Wrong. When you have a job and kids and chores and ten million other commitments, it is crucial to put aside time to connect with your partner. This can be a regularly scheduled date-night (you don’t even have to schedule a babysitter, they’re already booked!) Or it can be a weekly TV show that you enjoy watching together while cuddling on the sofa. Or it can be sex. Again, I know that doesn’t sound romantic, but most parents have to put aside time to “get busy”, or else it just isn’t going to happen. Intimacy and closeness leads to more intimacy. So… if you schedule time to be close, you might find yourself being more spontaneous and adventurous at other times.
Speak your Partner’s Love Language:
Most couples are familiar with the book, The Five Love Languages written by Gary Chapman. People can usually tell me their top two preferred languages: Receiving Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch or Quality Time. But here’s the deal, they often forget - and stop making an effort - to show their partner love in their partner’s preferred way. I encourage you to take the quiz again, ask your spouse to do the same, and then commit to showing your spouse love in their preferred language at least twice a week. Affection is contagious – the more you demonstrate love in a way that feels valid, the more you will receive it back.
Look for Love in the Small Gestures:
Even if you are making an effort to honor each other’s love languages, you still might not be showing love in the way you did pre-kids. Maybe your husband doesn’t sweep you away for a weekend get-away anymore? Or surprise you with flowers and chocolates for no reason? But there might be other ways that he IS showing you love in this new life of diapers, juice boxes and Goldfish crackers. I love this essay from TODAY Parenting Team contributor, Chrissy Roussel, in which she wrote about all of the small helpful things her husband does on a daily basis that make her feel loved. It’s such a great reminder of the sweet, meaningful things we can do every day to keep the love alive.
Go to Bed Angry… Sometimes:
OK, we all know the saying, Never go to bed angry. Well, here’s the truth: When you’re a parent, there will be times when you are exhausted or sick or cranky or all of the above. It is normal and natural to get testy with each other, and sometimes feel like your partner is your worst enemy. My advice is to not try to launch into a discussion or argument when you are drained at the end of the day. And don’t make any big decisions or judgments about your relationship. Eat a meal, get some rest and try again in the morning. We all go through tough spots in our relationships… but things usually seem brighter after some space and perspective. Of course, if you have unresolved issues, addictions or longstanding resentments, get your butts to a counselor and start doing the work. But if you are just exhausted and irritated at the end of the day, go to bed and start Project Reignite the Spark again tomorrow.