My husband and I met when we were 19 years old. We were in college at different schools but connected at a wedding the summer before our junior year. And so began countless phone conversations, letter-writing, and weekend getaways to visit each other during college and graduate school. I can still remember the way I felt the morning before I was going to visit him or he was coming to visit me—the excitement, anticipation, and giddiness completely took over. Nothing else seemed to matter.
Fast-forward 20 years, and a lot of other things matter. The love that was reserved for only each other has now spilled over to our two adorable children, and while we still love each other endlessly, our relationship now takes a lot more work. I work hard every day to practice mindfulness, and I try my best to be in the moment and treasure the time with my husband and children. But being mindful of time with my husband has taken a back seat to the thoughts that fill my head about my kids. But why?
Did you change? Did I change?
When my husband and I met, I was a free spirit. I had my little anxieties, sure, but in general I was the first to surprise my husband with spontaneous sex or suggest we skip class to go on a whirlwind day trip together. Two kids later, I wouldn't exactly call myself that free-spirited girl who my husband fell in love with. My kids put us on a schedule that we never had before, inspire additional anxiety, and exhaust us with their endless supply of energy.
The days of being spontaneous are hampered by the reality that just because we want to stay out late doesn't mean our kids won't still be wide awake as the sun rises and ready to eat, play, talk, repeat. Then there's the worry we feel as parents about keeping our children safe, happy, and healthy. Plus, parenthood brings on a level of exhaustion unlike any other. So now when 8:30 p.m. hits, when we get the kids to sleep, I rarely have the energy to push for "quality" time with my husband. I just want to climb in bed with my comfy book and hope for a solid eight hours of sleep.
My affection "bucket" is at maximum capacity.
I love my children and could hug and kiss them all day long. And there are days when my kids need extra affection. By the time I see my husband at the end of the day, I have exhausted a lot of my affection reserves during hugs, kisses, and long goodnights. It’s not that I don’t want to be affectionate with my husband when I see him after a long day, but some days I just don’t have anything left in my bucket. Some days we both feel depleted, but the worst is when one of us is raring to go while the other wants to put themselves in a self-induced timeout.
We have a blind spot for the people we love.
Call it distraction, exhaustion, or just plain "missing the plot," but my husband and I have a tendency to overlook each other’s needs, even if they are staring us right in the face. We spend our days trying to meet the needs of others at work, at home with our children, or with friends. Truth be told, there are days when I am totally aware that my girlfriends need a break and happily offer to pick up or take their kids somewhere, and on this very same evening, I may completely misread the cues as my husband tells me about his long and stressful day. Is he trying to say that his day was harder than mine? The reality is that, in moments like this, all my husband needs is an understanding ear, maybe a hug, and some sympathy. His comments have nothing to do with me.
So where do we go from here? Are marriages doomed once you have children? Absolutely not. We tried everything—here are the three things that worked for us.
Listening to the universe.
A time will come when your friends suggest going on a couple's weekend, or you notice one room left at your favorite hotel that's just a short drive away. I know, because both of these scenarios have happened to us! At the same time, a friend may offer to take your kids to baseball practice and then have a sleepover. When the worry over details and "what if" questions start flooding your brain, heed the urgings of the universe and start packing your bags. Your kids will be fine, someone will hear them if they get up in the middle of the night, and they might even benefit from seeing that they can thrive even if Mommy and Daddy aren’t around all the time.
Being a good partner is hard. Being a good parent is hard. Being a good partner and parent at the same time can seem downright impossible. So stay mindful and present, enjoy the now, and keep a bag packed just in case a quick escape falls into your lap.
Making time for sex.
In the old days, if I wanted to “play” with my husband, we just did. We were less constrained by schedules and didn’t need to worry about a child walking in on us, or banging on the locked door until we opened it up. The reality is that we're both super-busy all day long, and besides being a little more tired, it’s hard to find the time to be intimate.
We have found that sometimes advance planning for a romantic evening can be helpful. One of us may playfully mention in the morning that we hope to “connect” tonight. We might even send each other a text or two throughout the day to let the other know that we’re still thinking about them.
Once you get the kids to bed and are pretty confident that they're asleep, find some time to play. It doesn’t need to be candles and sexy music, but if you can pull that off, more power to you. Find what works for you in the moment and reconnect with your partner. Nike was onto something when they said, "just do it.” Don’t worry about the details or that the kids might bang on the door. Seriously, just do it.
For my husband's birthday this year, I sought the help of a wonderful sex therapist. I scheduled a few hours with her as a surprise for my husband, with the intention to reinforce my commitment to keeping our marriage strong and connected. Fortunately, the surprise was well-received and we enjoyed this time to share our connection challenges and have them normalized and get some good “tips” on ways we can stay connected. This sex therapy session helped, but our sex lives continue to be a work in progress. And hey, I like it that way.
Remember to be mindful and present.
There are too many days when I'm too tired or overloaded to feel like I can really let loose. On those days, before you roll over and go to sleep, look your spouse in the eye and remember why you chose him or her. Be mindful and present as you take a minute to appreciate that while the days can be tough, you are in this together. Mindfully give your partner a hug. Take a minute to collapse into each other, take a deep breath together, and enjoy this quiet moment of connectedness. Wild nights out may have to wait, but for right now, being present with your partner might be exactly the "quality time" that you both need. Accept your new normal: The days are long, but the years are short.
Want more ideas for how to nurture your marriage after kids? Here's a sleep trick that will work wonders.