How’s your relationship with your partner going? Post having kids has it changed a lot? Well, mine has!
I’ve got to be honest with you: of all the challenges of parenting, I find trying to keep the spark in my marriage to be the hardest. Where does romance and fun with our partners fit in when life is just consumed by the kids’ needs, the lack of sleep and the mountains of washing?!
I’m not alone in finding this a challenge. Research shows that couple relationships tend to go downhill faster after having babies as compared to couples without children.
So what can we do about it? How can we regain that spark?
At this point you’re expecting me to tell you that you should go out on a regular date night, right?! That’s always the advice I’ve been given! But there must be more we can do than that?! (Nothing wrong with a date night, but what if you can’t afford a babysitter or there’s nowhere nearby worth going on a date to?!)
More than a few nights out, what we need to do to maintain (or rekindle) the spark, according to research by leading relationships experts, John and Julie Gottman, is to create a culture of trust and intimacy with our partner.
So here are some research-backed methods for how to do this.
Number 1: Give attention and show interest in your partner
How often do you find you don’t reply or only give half-attention when your partner speaks to you (especially when the kids are interrupting the whole time!)? To grow intimacy, couples need to show interest and enthusiasm in their partner.
In an intriguing experiment, the Gottmans found that couples that had the most trust and intimacy - and least stress together - responded with interest 90% of the time their partner spoke or engaged with them. The couples heading for divorce tended to ignore each other or not offer full attention, only responding 30% of the time. The lesson is: engage with and ‘turn towards’ your partner whenever he or she engages with you. Don’t ignore them or be short.
Number 2: Look for positive things to appreciate and thank your partner for
Most people’s minds have a habit of noticing what’s wrong around us, including with our partner. This can be a real death knell for relationships if we don’t nip it in the bud.
The Gottmans explain that couples with the most successful relationships have a habit of mind of “scanning the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for”. Whereas the couples going downhill have a habit of “scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
It’s clear that many of us need to work on noticing what’s right (hence my last post on practicing gratitude)! One way to do this is to make an evening ritual of thanking each other or appreciating each other for something your partner has done that day.
Number 3: Offer kindness to your partner at every opportunity.
The third clear finding of the Gottman research was that happy couples exercise their kindness muscles every day. They see being kind to their partner as a skill to build up, which takes effort each and every day.
So, for example, even when you’re tired, try to respond kindly or with generosity when your partner wants to talk. And even more importantly (but it’s harder) is to try to be kind even during a fight or disagreement. This is not easy, but worth the extra effort!
In addition, try to empathise and commiserate with your partner when they’re having a tough time, for example struggling with sleep deprivation (even though you, too, are suffering!). Putting yourself in their shoes is always a great way to feel less angry or resentful and to be kinder.
Finally, here’s my last hot tip – try board games!! My husband and I have enjoyed many fun games of Boggle over the last few years. There’s even been a research study backing up the benefit of this too!
Good luck - I wish you much quality time with your partner!
PS. By the way, here's my blog on How to Keep Your Relationship Alive Part 1 - all about sharing the unconditional love of being a parent (and complete with a photo of my little family!).
PPS. Don't forget to join the Feed the Parent Facebook Group – I do a live video each week in there.