Having a Healthy Marriage With Kids (+ Why We Don’t Exchange Valentine’s Gifts)
It’s love month! And while I am frequently found strolling the dollar aisles at Target getting festive Valentine’s knickknacks for my kiddos, I’m reminded that the ultimate focus for me this holiday should probably be my spouse, not just my kids.
Whether you’re one who celebrates Valentine’s Day or not, it’s no secret that we all could use a little more TLC in our relationships. Love day is a great way to have an intentional boost in the marriage department. This doesn’t mean it is necessary to go out and buy an elaborate or expensive gift by any means--rather quite the opposite.
While it is true that gift giving is a very real love language for some, the real quality and essence of improving a marital relationship lies within the experiences you share. This is why my husband and I have had an agreement since we got married almost 10 years ago that we don’t exchange Valentine’s Day gifts with each other--but instead plan a date together where we can share experiences and have some meaningful connection and conversation.
We love doing this because it eliminates the expectations that traditionally come with the holiday and it keeps it at an organic and authentic level for us. It allows for more intentionality and meaning in how we spend the night--and it is something we usually spend some time planning together in advance.
Overall, I think February is a great time to take a little inventory of your relationship and take advantage of prioritizing it a little more. Having a healthy marriage with kids takes some serious intentionality, but is totally doable and possible.
Here are some practical ways to do that:
Don’t Stop Having Fun Together
When you become “mom” and “dad”, it can be hard to remember that you were also once dating and always doing things to get closer to each other. The thousand menial tasks of raising a family each day can slowly take over. They also slowly take up our mental space. If you’re feeling like your relationship could use a little boost, a good way to start easily is by incorporating things you enjoy together a little more often into your schedule. Hiring a babysitter for a couple hours a week is one of the best investments you can make. If that’s not an option for you, trade with another couple for a night every other weekend or see if there’s a family member who you could enlist.
As people grow and lifestyles change, hobbies can change sometimes, too. With that being the case, one of the best things you can do is be open to learning and trying new hobbies, experiences or activities as a couple. Learning something new together can be a fantastic bonding experience. Maybe you could pick up golfing together by going and hitting some balls on the range, or start trying a game of pickle ball, or learning a new card game. One of my husband’s and my favorite activities since having kids is some really intense games of cards after the kiddos are out. We have a few favorites and we both have very competitive personalities, so it has become an activity we love to do when we are just sitting at home anyways. We pull out a bowl of treats or whip up some cookies and sometimes stay up way too late trying to one-up each other.
Sometimes parent life (and adult life in general) can start to feel heavy and serious most of the time. Intentionally getting lighthearted and playful every now and then is so helpful. A healthy dose of hard laughter can ease so much stress of day-to-day life and helps to create a bond with that person.
Invest in Your Spouse’s Interests (& Allow For Them)
Again, parenthood and family life has a way of sometimes making one lose oneself to an extent, and that can create a lot of unhappiness and resentment. BOTH parents need an outlet and need a way to still feel their individuality. When you’re able to feel like the whole “you”, you are able to invest so much more into being the parent and spouse you want to be. That balance can be hard to strike with a partner, but it’s all the more important to not only your own happiness but the success of your relationship.
The cool thing is that when you allow for your partner to have their own hobbies and interests, it actually does something interesting to your perception of them. Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, a licensed marriage therapist talks about how when you witness your spouse’s “otherness,” or see them in a space outside of the everyday norm, your attraction for them actually increases. The same goes for you. Having something that makes you feel alive and like a whole individual changes the dynamic in your relationship and your spouse’s perception of you. If you feel like you’re in a rut and aren’t sure about your passions as much as you were before family life, try something new. Grab a friend and chances are, they’d try it with you! Who knows what it could turn into?
Prioritize Your Marriage Over All Else
Be open about what needs work. Relationships are like a dynamic, constantly moving machine and no matter how well it is functioning in one area, there will always be some things that could use more attention. Accept that and know that it means your relationship is normal and being aware of this allows you to make it stronger than if you were just complacent about it. Your relationship is the backbone of your family unit. The family unit is very dependent on the dynamic of this relationship.
Prioritizing your marriage isn’t saying your kids are less important, it’s saying that the success of the entire family unit is so important to you that paying attention to and not neglecting your relationship is one of the most important things you can do for them.
Thinking of it that way can help eliminate guilt for going on frequent date nights, putting the kiddos down early some nights, and really putting your relationship at the top of your priority list. A massive bonus to this is that the more you invest in your marriage, the more likely it is that you will both be more united with each other as parents, which we all know is one of the best things in the parenting realm and a major stress reducer in the home.
Marriage is awesome. Having a partner by your side who is there to go through all of the ups and downs of family life with you can be one of the greatest things in the world. Investing in that so that you can both be better, not only for yourselves but for your family, is worth the intentionality and investment it requires. Even with difficult situations, getting creative can mitigate obstacles that otherwise would make it hard to prioritize each other. A healthy and happy marriage will look different for every couple, and the most important thing is that you and your spouse are on the same page for it and how you want your marriage to look.
It only takes one person to start the conversation, and who doesn’t want to hear, “Hey babe, I really want to spend more meaningful time with you. Let’s sit down tonight and plan out a few date nights together, okay”?
What are your favorite ways to spend time together? What makes you feel closer to your spouse?
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