Marriage is one of the most rewarding and challenging relationships a person can enter. Parenting, too. Through the course of my work, I have met a number of couples experiencing a difficult stretch in their relationship who believed having a child might save their marriage. The sentiment makes sense. By rallying around the responsibility of raising a baby, they imagine they’ll set aside their disagreements and grow closer. The reality is, even if you have a strong marriage, children always make things more complicated.
When you bring a life into the world you go from attempting to make two lives function as one unit, to now trying to fit together three, four, or more. You’re also doing so with less sleep, less expendable income, and more stress. Ever try to juggle five knives while blindfolded? Sometimes parenting can feel like that.
So, what can you do? Are there any practices that will help your marriage survive parenthood? Fortunately, the answer is yes. None of them are rocket science. But just because they’re simple solutions, doesn’t mean they’ll be easy. Each will take commitment and sacrifice, but they can help you and your spouse grow closer together amidst the challenges of parenting.
Find time for dates, even if slightly redefined.
A friend once told my wife and I that when you don’t have kids every night is date night. Though I don’t totally agree, once we had a child, I understood what he meant. Date night looks different now. Nevertheless, it’s important for you and your spouse to set aside time for one another. You were committed to your partner before you were committed to your child. The love and security that results from making your marriage a priority will only benefit your kids. Identify a trusted person or two to babysit, develop a budget, and commit to a schedule, even if it’s only a time or two a month. You and your kids will be glad you did.
After a long day, when the kids are finally in bed, your work is done, and the dishes are put away, it can be tempting to plop on the couch and watch Netflix until you drift off to sleep. Somedays, that may be exactly what you need. Realize, however, that your rhythms impact your marriage. Find time to relax, yes. But also find time to communicate with one another. Just because you’re now parents doesn’t mean you’re no longer people. You each still have stresses, joys, fears, and questions you need to process. You still have dreams to share. You still need to laugh. You still need to make love. Find time for uninterrupted communication with one another, even if it’s only 15 minutes before bed each day. You may choose to make one day a week “check-in” day, where after the kids go to bed you spend the rest of the evening checking in with how the other person is doing emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. Find what works for you and stick with it.
Pursue counseling or coaching.
Though there is less stigma with seeking help now than there has been in the past, the idea still exists that seeing a counselor is a sign of weakness. On the contrary, working on your blind spots only makes you stronger. Ever year top-rated high school athletes underperform as they transition to college. They arrive on campus with great accolades, but they struggle to transfer their skills to the next level. Often the reason is that they failed to work on their weaknesses. They assume because they could outmuscle or outrun opponents in high school, they don’t need to work on their post moves or ball handling. What happens, however, is the athletes willing to work on their game end up surpassing them. The same is true in marriage. Just because at one time you had a strong marriage doesn’t mean you’re ready for every new challenge or change that comes your way. You have blind spots that a professional counselor or experienced coach can help you with. My wife and I have both benefited from counseling at times in our life and marriage. You can as well. If you’re worried about the cost, insurance will often help with counseling expenses. Many churches also offer marriage ministries or coaching for free.
It’s great to show your spouse you love them by buying them something nice on Valentine’s Day. But the willingness to invest in your marriage through intentional time, communicating, and counseling is the gift that really keeps on giving.