“With two kids and two jobs, Doug and I never seem to have any time to be together just the two of us. You’re busier than ever, the days blur by, and then you look up and there’s your husband, and you realize that it’s been weeks, literally weeks, since you’ve done anything pleasant together. When we do get some time, it’s great and there’s a little glow in our relationship that lasts a couple days. We keep saying we have to do that more often. But it’s really hard.”
During periods of intense demands – such as the first months after birth, while an infant is colicky, or when either of you is sick or flat out exhausted – it’s normal for a couple to have less time for each other. But over the long run, we have to keep investing in an intimate friendship if we want to continue to have one. You can’t put a partner in the freezer for a few years and then pop him or her in the microwave and expect everything to be warm and tasty between you again.
Time together for conversation, doing fun things together, sweet moments, and affection is the foundation of a strong and enduring love. Here are some suggestions for busy parents:
Do tasks together
Understandably, parents often divide their tasks in order to conquer them. But when you’re both cleaning up after dinner or bathing a child, it’s easier and more fun. Additionally, look for chances to connect even while you’re getting things done, like comfortably touching shoulders at the sink, shared glances of amusement at a child’s play with a stuffed animal, rubbing a partner’s foot as he or she reads a story, friendly conversation in the car while running errands, holding hands as you walk your child into daycare, and so on.
Create family fun
You can also do more family activities that are fun and connecting for mom and dad, not just the kids, such as roughhousing together, making music, playing hide and seek or board games, making cookies, or planting flowers.
Make time for pillow talk
Arranging to go to bed at the same time gives you more private moments for talking and snuggling, but that’s hard for many parents. Yet the difference in bedtimes is usually small enough that it’s easy to bridge with a gracious compromise. You could split the difference: if he’s the night-owl, he might come to bed a half hour sooner while you stay up for half an hour. Or maybe she could get the kids going in the morning, giving you more time to sleep so you can go to bed later with her. Or he might come to bed with you, talk and cuddle for awhile, and then go back out to the living room.
Establish daily routines
Try to build time for just the two of you into the normal rhythm of your day. Tell the kids to leave you alone – perhaps after setting them up with an activity – and make the rule stick; soon enough, almost any child past two will come to respect it. Some couples have a cup of tea or glass of wine together when they’re both home from work. You could arrange for the kids to eat early so you can have a peaceful dinner with each other. Firm bedtimes will give you time to yourselves in the evening. Or pay an older child to play with your younger ones for a few hours over the weekend while you hang out together in another part of your home; a friendly ten-year-old is a preschooler’s dream playmate!
Schedule regular date nights
By the time most infants are six months old (and for some, it’s sooner), they can handle their parents going off for an hour or two in the evening. At this point, try to schedule a “date night” for at least once a month, and maybe even weekly. The first time or two, let yourself be as careful or nervous as you like: call home every fifteen minutes, carry a pager, leave the movie early because you can’t stand being away from your baby, whatever – we’ve been there! But soon it will feel very natural, and the kids will see it as simply part of the weekly routine, even if they howl for a few minutes after your car pulls out of the driveway.
Let good moments last
As much as you both want things to be good between you, it’s striking how hard it can be to let the nice moments last. For example, it might seem like a part of you doesn’t want to give way to strong feelings of liking or love. Perhaps you fear that would imply you’re letting your partner off the hook for the ways you feel they’ve let you down. Maybe you’re afraid to melt, afraid to let yearnings for love and support stir within you, unwilling to chance being hurt one more time.
Instead, try to take the moment for what it is: it doesn’t negate the past or de-legitimize anyone’s grievances, nor does it mean you’ve agreed to anything from now on. These minutes together are like beads on your life’s necklace: will they be pearls, or something plain or painful? You can help them be good by stretching yourself to be present when you feel far away, nice when you’re irritable, open rather than guarded. Try to locate in your partner that which calls forth warmth and fondness in you. When they offer something positive, try to build on it rather than letting it hit the ground with a thud. Protecting these moments makes a sanctuary for your love, giving it room to live – and grow.
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This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.