Putting the Romance Back Into Your Marriage
(When There Are Kids Around)
Gene Douglas, M.Ed. LPC LMFT
Years after the wedding, a marriage settles into a routine. The “in-love” factor migrates to a family kind of love, and the hypnotic expecting-perpetual-bliss element of the engagement becomes faded.
That routine can feature such matters as finances and employment, child care, division of tasks, and personal attitudes that were not mutually known or seen as important in the beginning. Any of these things can serve to promote repeated annoyance and resentment, and weaken the romance between a couple.
The obvious response is to reduce or eliminate problems created by each of these elements. When finances are difficult, the marriage can be extremely stressed, for example.
It is important that the couple come to a rational understanding of what is actually possible in the short run, and what is not. I stress the word “rational.” Yelling and accusing are not rational.
What is real includes how long a money shortage will likely last, and what can be done in the short run to increase the family's income or decrease its outgo. Important factors include the causes of a reduced income. What is voluntary, and what can't be helped? If drinking or compulsive spending or gambling are involved, those can be marriage destroyers, and must be addressed.
Sometimes the issue is work hours. If the husband and wife work different shifts, they are like ships passing in the night, and are generally both at home when one of them is asleep, and gradually become strangers in the same house. They may reason that it allows one of them to care for the children at all times, but that may strain the marriage all the same.
A day job during school hours and a couple of hours of day care might be a better solution. If the husband is working an 80-hour week, he may be providing great financial benefits for the family, but he may become seen as an absentee, which is not what his wife expected when she married him. He may do better to reduce his hours and live on a lower income.
If the couple differs on methods of child discipline, they should find ways to be on the same sheet of music, or they will forever be at one another's throats over that dispute. Children can also exploit their differences.
This article is not about child care methods, but it is at least desirable to get together in advance and decide what they will do in certain cases, rather than debating after the problem arises each time. Discussed out of earshot of the children for example, might be what will each do if a child goes to a second parent to ask a permission, after the first has already said no?
The couple should be in some agreement as to how to share household tasks. They should discuss these tasks one at a time, rather than making general statements about all of them, or one another's attitudes. If they can agree on these things before the situations arise, there will be far less tension when they do.
If the issue is personal attitudes, there are several possibilities. One is to calmly, stressing calmly, talk them out, hoping at least to let the other know how one feels about them. (Avoid using the phrase “you think,” unless you actually have ESP powers.) Sometimes it is only possible to agree to disagree, and to steer a wide path around the disliked attitude. Sometimes marriage counseling may be necessary.
The pair should realize they are not only parents, and not only an economic team, but are also a couple who had romantic motives when they married. That romance tends to be the glue that holds the marriage together, when finances, child care and work create stress.
A couple needs to spend some time together, without the children. They need to go out together, like they used to do. If finances are an obstacle, they should find inexpensive things to do, like going to a park or going fishing, for example.
Dinner could be at a fast-food place, if that is what they can afford. A movie might be at the 99c movie in the area. It may even be that the kids could spend a weekend at the grandparents' house while the parents remain at home. The important thing is that they are enjoying their time together, however they do it.