It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself. ~Joyce Maynard
When I’m meeting with couples for the very first time, there are a variety of questions that I ask them. The one that seems to illicit the quizzical, deer in headlights look the most for couples with children is “How do the two of you spend time together?”
Sometimes couples will simply say that they do not spend time together, but oftentimes couples will talk about the time that they spend as a family with their children or other family members. While family time is definitely an important component, spending uninterrupted time together as a couple is also essential. It sounds simple when you actually think about it, however most couples with children, or those in busy, high status jobs are not truly spending time together. It is all too common for partners to assume their “parenthood” is the same as their “couplehood” and in turn, we sacrifice the time that is necessary to foster a loving, healthy relationship with one another.
Maintaining a balance in satisfying all of our “selves” can sometimes be challenging, however it is essential. If there is something missing from our role as a spouse, child, parent, employee, friend, sibling, et cetera it will eventually begin to affect the other parts that make us a whole, and will knock us completely off balance.
We spend our entire lives raising our children and building up our home and careers, and when the eighteen years are over and our children go off to college and to start their own lives, sometimes we are left with a stranger sitting next to us. Without that continued connection of communication, intimacy, and fun how can we just pick up where we left off?
When it is proposed that couples adjust their time so that they can have more together, many times one or both partners are resistant to this idea. Typically feelings of guilt or the perception that this is “selfish” is what surfaces. However, there are many benefits to the entire family unit as well as the children when parents have a healthy relationship and spend time together on a regular basis.
When you ride on an airplane the stewardess will tell you if you are with a child that you should utilize the oxygen masks first in an emergency. This is clearly counterintuitive to parents as our first priority is keeping our children safe. But this idea is almost identical to the idea of spending time with your partner. If we do not take care of our own needs, we will not be capable of satisfying the needs of our children or anyone else for that matter.
According to the Family Dynamics Institute, parents who have healthy marriages as opposed to unhealthy marriages are more likely to have better relationships with their children and be emotionally healthier. Children of parents who have a healthy marriage are more likely to attend college, refrain from the use of drugs and alcohol, be both physically and emotionally healthier, are more likely to succeed academically, and are also more likely to have healthy relationships of their own.
So how do you do it? With the everyday demands of work, continuing education, children, taking care of your home, and finances it can seem impossible to fit another minute in, let alone forty-five of them.
1. Communicate- It is imperative for any healthy relationship to grow and prosper that there be good communication. Do not assume that your partner knows what you are thinking or feeling. Even if the situation is not able to be changed, acknowledging the feelings that exist and really understanding the other partner’s viewpoint is essential.
2. Make Time- Many times we assume that ‘spending time’ has to be an entire evening devoted to one another. Although “date nights” are encouraged it is important to incorporate small obtainable things into your relationship. Whether you leave notes for one another or have coffee in the morning before the kids are awake, establish a consistent routine to ensure you are staying connected. Set up a date night from time to time. Get dressed up, flirt with one another, and get to know one another all over again.
3. Make Space & Set Boundaries- If you are able to make any changes (even small ones) in your other activities such as reducing your volunteer hours at a sport or a school function or adjusting an appointment at work to free up an extra hour during the week. Don’t be afraid to say “no”. It is important for us to balance our lives and commitments so that we remain healthy and happy. When we are unbalanced it can cause us to feel many emotions such as anger, resentment, sadness, or guilt.