One question readers often ask is how not to forget about your marriage when you have little kids. (Also, a few people panicked after reading this post!) I definitely don’t have all the answers, but for what it’s worth, here are 8 things Alex and I have learned through trial and error over the past six years…
Consider daytime sex. With two little kids and a full-time job, I’m often too tired to have sex on weeknights. All I want to do is eat a piece of sea-salt chocolate and pass out. But daytime sex is another story! When Anton goes down for his weekend naps, we let Toby watch Peppa Pig or Bubble Guppies or whatever he likes; then we steal off to our room and lock that door right quick.
Go on date nights with friends. Whenever we’re out with other people, I see Alex with fresh eyes. He’ll tell an anecdote with a new twist, or he’ll talk about sports with such authority, or he’ll order everyone a round of drinks. It makes me feel buzzy to look across the table and see him in action, and I’m always so glad I get to take him home with me.
Speak your partner’s love language. Recently my friends got totally into figuring out which of the five love languages we crave most: quality time, physical touch, receiving gifts, words of affirmation or acts of service. Which make you feel loved? (I’m definitely words of affirmation and quality time.) Take the quiz here, if you’d like. Knowing yours — and discovering your partner’s (it may be surprising!) — helps you know how to best make each other feel good.
Find new things you like doing together. Don’t you love the shock of doing something new? My friend has a two-person book club with her husband, where they read the same book and discuss it throughout. And even if it’s something small, like trying a new restaurant or creating a playlist for each other’s commute, it’s so nice to shake things up.
Get away from each other, too. Now and again, Alex and I switch off taking evenings to ourselves, while the other parent puts the kids to bed. I’ll go to a barre class or meet a friend or walk to a bookstore. “As important as time together is time apart,” my friend Lucy says. “Whether it be your career, athletic pursuits or separate friends, having an individual identity helps to combat the powerful pull to lose yourself entirely in the roles of ‘mother’ and ‘spouse.’ ” We even spend a bit of time apart when we’re on vacation.
Thank your partner for all he or she does. If both partners are actively contributing to the household, try not to tally things up daily. “My husband likes to say that the work is probably evenly split if both partners feel like they are doing upward of 60 percent of the work, since a lot of what one partner does is necessarily invisible to the other partner,” wrote Rebecca Rosen in The Atlantic. “If you feel like you are doing half, you’re not.” And then thank them. A little thanks goes a loooooong way. (Remember this?)
Tell stories to each other. I love this quote from Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night: “‘Think how you love me,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside me there’ll always be the person I am tonight.’ ” Remember those feelings. Even if you’re tired and bedhead-y and mopping up spilled cereal, you’re the same two people you were when you fell in love. If you want a reminder, it’s always nice to reminisce about your first date or first time having sex or wedding day. It brings up all those schmoopy feelings.
Know that the first six months (or year?) are insane. At least they were for us. You’re in a fog, your emotions and hormones are all over the place, everyone’s exhausted. Don’t analyze your marriage under a microscope during that crazy time. Say what you both need and try to stay positive, but other than that, give yourselves a break. Trust that you’ll get into a groove and feel like yourselves again sooner than later. (You have the rest of your lives to sleep, travel and have crazy sex!)
Thoughts? What about you? How do you keep your relationship going even with little kids underfoot? I’d love to hear and learn!
(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)