In graduate school I had a very wise marital and family counseling professor who said, “The parental relationship is central to a family with kids.” As a newly married student with no kids, I didn’t pay much attention to him. It wasn’t until I had my firstborn that I realized something: kids can ruin your marriage. Now, I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but honestly, I can’t think of anything in my marriage that has caused us as much stress as our children! Of course, our kids bring my husband and me boundless joy, loads of entertainment, and unconditional love, but they can stress us out more than any job, in-law situation, or homeowner problem. That is why it is imperative to heed my wise professor’s advice: nurture your marriage.
I know many of you reading this are saying, “Yes, I’d love to go out and spend more time with my spouse, but…..” and then we can all find a hundred reasons why we don’t: too much work, too many extracurricular activities, not enough money, not enough time, and on and on the list goes. The truth is this, though: if you don’t make the time for your marriage, you will wake up one morning next to a stranger. I say this because I am witnessing first hand many of my friends whose kids have gone off to college or left the house (and it’s sooner than you think, trust me) who are wondering what they have in common with their partner. A friend who is going through a divorce told me recently that it wasn’t any one thing that ruined her marriage, just years of neglect on both her and her husband’s part. She said that eventually, they no longer knew one another and their marriage faded into nothingness. So what can we do to not only prevent our marriages from fading away, but to nurture them?
First, I am a big advocate of the weekly date. I know this isn’t always easy, but I feel it is vitally important to reconnect after a long week of nurturing others. When my husband and I were new parents without much expendable income, we would ask our neighbor, a widow who had raised 4 boys, to watch our son for one hour a week, and we would go for a walk. During this time, we would talk about our son for the first part of our “date” and then limit our conversation to non-kid topics for the latter part of our walk. Surely there is someone in your life, a middle school child, a grandparent, a neighbor who can take your kids off your hands for one hour one day a week? (Think of it as a marriage work out.)
Second, pick a day on the weekend (we choose Sunday nights after the kids are in bed) to pull out your day planners and talk about what the week ahead of you looks like. This allows you and your partner to be on the same page regarding your kids activities, your own home/work schedule, and gives you the opportunity to plan your date! I love this time because I feel like my husband and I are re-connecting at a very basic level about our lives. Sometimes things are so hurried that we don’t know which direction either one of us is moving in. This allows us to slow it down.
Finally, one time a year try hard to get away together, even if it’s just for one night. I know firsthand that this is hard, but I think all of us need to put energy into making this kind of time with our spouse or partner work. My husband and I started this tradition by sending our kids to Grandma’s house for a sleep-over, and then we had the house to ourselves! It was free and freeing at the same time.
On a final note, I know many of us have very difficult children and can find ourselves overwhelmed on a continual basis. Parents will oftentimes say that this is a reason they cannot go out as much as they would like because their family life seems to engulf them. If this is you, I will say that a difficult family life is even MORE reason to get out with your partner as often as possible in order to build a strong marital foundation so you can adequately deal with your children.
All parents need a break, and all marriages require work. Get out on that date this week!
Do you have any tips or ideas for a good way to get away with your spouse? Please share them here!
About Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in Colorado with her husband and three energetic children. She currently has a private practice in Boulder where she sees adults, couples and adolescents.