Staying connected with your spouse while having small children in the home can be a major challenge for many couples. Often one or both of you is working full-time, or staying at home with the kids (which is tons of work), and the sheer physical exhaustion from caring for the home and kids can leave you feeling disconnected from your spouse.
So how does a couple with young children in the home stay connected?
First, you need to have the right mindset.
Accept the phase of life you are in, and realize that it is a phase.
Often I have become very frustrated about the challenges of staying connected with my husband during this time in our marriage. What has helped me, though, is to recognize that this is a phase, and that it does get easier over time.
Now that our daughter is slightly older, it is easier to do some of the things that were more difficult when she was an infant and toddler.
So keep in mind, first of all, that this phase of life will change. And recognize that there may be things you WANT to do as a married couple that are just not possible right now. Instead of wishing the time away, do your best to enjoy the phase you are in currently, and try not to become resentful of the demands that young children place on you and your spouse.
Prioritize your marriage.
Although the phase of having young children in the house may mean that life will look different than at other times in your marriage, it also is a very good idea to prioritize your marriage.
As a couple, you need to decide that you will make your marriage a priority. It is often said that many divorces take place once the children are grown and moved out the house. Why? Because the married couple didn’t stay connected while the kids were living at home. They focused so much on the children and their needs that they lost their identity as a married couple.
If you want to avoid this, then you must mentally make the decision that your marriage will come first-- before your relationship with your children.
Once you’ve accepted the phase of life you are in, and you’ve made a decision to prioritize your marriage, it’s time to begin putting into action some steps to stay connected as a couple.
Here are a few strategies that have worked really well for me and my husband:
1. Date Nights.
I am a firm believer that having a regular date night--even when the children are young--is absolutely essential to staying connected and maintaining your communication.
My husband and I often attempt to have conversations around the house. I say attempt because we are inevitably interrupted by our 7-year-old, who loves to talk non-stop. We have learned that it’s basically pointless to try and discuss anything of importance when she is awake.
I'm sure we're not alone in this situation. That's why date nights are so essential. Having a specific time when you go out together allows you to have a full conversation without being constantly interrupted or having to run and change a diaper, get someone a drink, or clean up puke.
In our marriage, Saturday nights are reserved for each other. Once a month we go out, and the other Saturday nights we do something together at home. After our daughter is in bed, we make an effort to talk, play a game, watch a movie, or do something else that helps us stay connected.
Having this time reserved for date night--whether at home or out and about--allows us to look forward to that time together where we are not dealing with other responsibilities.
2. Weekly Meeting.
Okay, this one is not as exciting or sexy as date nights. But it can be very beneficial.
My husband and I have often run into challenges over our schedules. He works part-time as a pastor at our church and runs his own business. I homeschool our daughter and run my own business as well.
So, very often, there are events, plans, and situations that arise on one of our schedules that affects the other person. However, sometimes we do not communicate about these things until the last minute. For me, last minute communication about events equals stress.
So this year, we began touching base once a week about our upcoming events and schedules. Our goal is to sit down once a week and review the next week’s schedule. We discuss any changes outside of the normal routine. We talk about whether either one of us will be doing an activity with friends, or if there is a date night to plan, or a church activity going on.
This also is a time when we often discuss how we are doing in terms of our own needs and our needs as a couple. These conversations have helped us to stay connected and stay on the same page about our marriage and our family life.
3. Show Appreciation.
The years of raising young children are incredibly demanding on both parents. There are sleepless nights, loads and loads of laundry, bills to pay, and mouths to feed. Especially when the kids are too young to really help out, and all they do is make a mess-- this can be emotionally and physically exhausting.
That’s why it is SO important, during these years, to show appreciation to your spouse for what they do.
It is very easy to become overwhelmed with everything you have to do that you neglect to notice what your spouse is doing. This happened with me and my husband after our daughter was born, and we both ended up feeling unappreciated and unloved.
It took a couple years of feeling very frustrated in our marriage and finally going to therapy to realize that lack of appreciation was a major cause of our unhappiness.
I also realized that I needed to change my attitude towards my husband in order to improve our marriage. I needed to begin recognizing what he WAS doing for our marriage instead of focusing on what he wasn't doing.
So taking the time to notice, and appreciate, the little things your spouse does is vitally important to staying connected. When you feel appreciated, you are more likely to feel connected to your spouse.
4. Schedule Sex.
Often, in the midst of raising young children, your physical intimacy as a married couple can suffer. In the busyness of life, sometimes having sex becomes an item on your long list of “to-dos” instead of an important aspect of your relationship.
But maintaining your physical intimacy is vital to the health of your marriage. It may seem strange, but scheduling sex can truly help to keep that connection healthy. Rather than just waiting for the right moment to happen--which, let’s face it, with kids around, is unlikely to take place--you can take control of this as a couple and actually plan it.
I first heard of this idea at a marriage retreat that my husband and I attended, and then I’ve heard it a few other times from other couples and on podcasts. My husband and I have implemented this practice and it has helped us to stay connected even during challenging times in our lives.
5. Have fun together.
Humor and laughter in a relationship is truly beneficial to maintaining a strong connection.
During the times that have been the most difficult in my marriage, I have noticed that we have not had very much fun together. On the other hand, when we are doing things we enjoy together and having fun, we tend to be more connected emotionally as well.
So make an effort to do fun things that you both enjoy! Sometimes these can be the simplest of activities, but they can produce great amounts of joy.
A few ideas: Play a board game together, either as a couple or as a family. Play a sport outside together-- kick a soccer ball around, play a game of toss, or badmiton, or go for a bike ride. These activities often result in laughter and fun naturally.
Allow yourselves to be silly. Some of me and my husband’s funniest moments are late at night, when we are both exhausted, but we just start laughing and making crazy jokes. It can be a fun way to end a day if you are able to laugh together.
Staying connected as a couple while you have small children running about is challenging, but not impossible. If you have the right mindset, and you put some simple habits into place, you are likely to see improvements in your relationship.
Esther Littlefield is a feisty pastor’s wife to her husband, Scott, and mom to her spirited daughter, KJ. They live in Maine where they enjoy as many outdoor adventures as possible in the midst of homeschooling, business, and church life. In her free time, you’d probably find her with a cup of coffee, a good friend, and a sink full of dishes. Esther is the founder of WellnessMomLife, helping moms balance marriage, motherhood, and ministry by caring for their personal, physical, spiritual, and relational wellness. Please visit her blog at www.wellnessmomlife.com, and join her FREE 5-Day Better Attitude Marriage Challenge. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.