© Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac. 2001, 2002, 2003
Making Time for Your Relationship
With two kids and two jobs, Doug and I never seem to have any time to be
together just the two of us. You're busier than ever, the days blur by,
and then you look up and there's your husband, and you realize that it's
been weeks, literally weeks, since you've done anything pleasant
together. When we do get some time, it's great and there's a little glow
in our relationship that lasts a couple days. We keep saying we have to
do that more often. But it's really hard.
During periods of intense demands - such as the first months after
birth, while an infant is colicky, or when either of you is sick or flat
out exhausted - it's normal for a couple to have less time for each
other. But over the long run, we have to keep investing in an intimate
friendship if we want to continue to have one. You can't put a partner
in the freezer for a few years and then pop him or her in the microwave
and expect everything to be warm and tasty between you again.
Time together for conversation, doing fun things together, sweet
moments, and affection is the foundation of a strong and enduring love.
Here are some suggestions for busy parents:
Do tasks together.
Understandably, parents often divide their tasks in order to conquer
them. But when you're both cleaning up after dinner or bathing a child,
it's easier and more fun. Additionally, look for chances to connect even
while you're getting things done, like comfortably touching shoulders at
the sink, shared glances of amusement at a child's play with a stuffed
animal, rubbing a partner's foot as he or she reads a story, friendly
conversation in the car while running errands, holding hands as you walk
your child into daycare, and so on.
Create family fun.
You can also do more family activities that are fun and connecting for
mom and dad, not just the kids, such as roughhousing together, making
music, playing hide and seek or board games, making cookies, or planting
Make time for pillow talk.
Arranging to go to bed at the same time gives you more private moments
for talking and snuggling, but that's hard for many parents. Yet the
difference in bedtimes is usually small enough that it's easy to bridge
with a gracious compromise. You could split the difference: if he's the
night-owl, he might come to bed a half hour sooner while you stay up for
half an hour. Or maybe he could get the kids going in the morning,
giving you more time to sleep so you can go to bed later with him. Or he
might come to bed with you, talk and cuddle for awhile, and then go back
out to the living room.
Establish daily routines.
Try to build time for just the two of you into the normal rhythm of your
day. Tell the kids to leave you alone - perhaps after setting them up
with an activity - and make the rule stick; soon enough, almost any
child past two will come to respect it. Some couples have a cup of tea
or glass of wine together when they're both home from work. You could
arrange for the kids to eat early so you can have a peaceful dinner with
each other. Firm bedtimes will give you time to yourselves in the
evening. Or pay an older child to play with your younger ones for a few
hours over the weekend while you hang out together in another part of
your home; a friendly ten-year-old is a preschooler's dream playmate!
Schedule regular date nights.
By the time most infants are six months old (and for some, it's sooner),
they can handle their parents going off for an hour or two in the
evening. At this point, try to schedule a "date night" for at least once
a month, and maybe even weekly. The first time or two, let yourself be
as careful or nervous as you like: call home every fifteen minutes,
carry a pager, leave the movie early because you can't stand being away
from your baby, whatever - we've been there! But soon it will feel very
natural, and the kids will see it as simply part of the weekly routine,
even if they howl for a few minutes after your car pulls out of the
Let good moments last.
As much as you both want things to be good between you, it's striking
how hard it can be to let the nice moments last. For example, it might
seem like a part of you doesn't want to give way to strong feelings of
liking or love. Perhaps you fear that would imply you're letting him off
the hook for the ways you feel he's let you down. Maybe you're afraid to
melt, afraid to let yearnings for love and support stir within you,
unwilling to chance being hurt one more time.
Instead, try to take the moment for what it is: it doesn't negate the
past or de-legitimize anyone's grievances, nor does it mean you've
agreed to anything from now on. These minutes together are like beads on
your life's necklace: will they be pearls, or something plain or
painful? You can help them be good by stretching yourself to be present
when you feel far away, nice when you're irritable, open rather than
guarded. Try to locate in him that which calls forth warmth and fondness
in you. When he offers something positive, try to build on it rather
than letting it hit the ground with a thud. Protecting these moments
makes a sanctuary for your love, giving it room to live - and grow.
(Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is an
acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son,
ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the authors of
Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate
Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see their website at
www.nurturemom.com or email them with questions or comments at
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