Most of us have heard of the so-called child-centered marriage. It's where a couple focuses most of their time, energy and affection on their children and very little on each other. Of course, those of us who have kids at home know that the little darlings are demanding creatures (it's why Mother Nature made them so cute) and prioritizing our relationship is often easier said than done. After all, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. And kids are usually squeakier than adults (well, at least they should be).
I've worked with too many couples who -- once that nest is empty -- find that they have neglected their relationship for so long that their partnership and passion for each other have seriously waned. That's a sad thing. It's heartbreaking to see a couple who has devoted so much time and emotion to raising great kids then face divorce at a time when they should be enjoying their newfound freedom.
It's a mistake to think that you can put your relationship "on hold" until the kids are gone. Instead, practice these eight ways to take your marriage "off hold" right now, and keep it alive and well throughout the various stages of your life together.
1. Indulge your adult tastes. Many parents fall into the rut where every movie and meal revolves around their kids' preferences. Some parents even feel guilty when they want to watch or eat something their kids don't like. Trust me: it's fine to leave the kids with a sitter so you can catch an R-rated movie or dine at a restaurant that doesn't have a clown painted on the walls.
2. Romance your partner. Whether it's flowers, spontaneous embraces, flirtatious winks or admiring looks, make sure your partner knows that you desire him or her and that the spark is still there. Model for your kids what a loving, long-term romantic partnership looks like.
3. Fan the flames of passion. Make sure that you're saving enough time and energy for regular sexual intimacy. Focus on your partner's pleasure as well as your own, and try to bring variety into the bedroom. If you're the partner who always initiates, ask your spouse what you can do (or stop doing!) to spark his or her interest. If you rarely or never initiate, take the lead and do so. It means more than you think.
4. Respect your partner as a person. Your spouse isn't just a husband or wife, father or mother. Your spouse is a unique individual. Help your spouse find time to pursue his or her interests, socialize with friends or have alone time (and don't guilt-trip him or her for doing so).
5. Nourish your partnership. Marriage and family life take teamwork. Work together in all things from housework to financial planning. Parent as a united front, keeping disagreements behind closed doors. Show appreciation for your partner and praise him or her in front of your kids. If your partner has a complaint about your relationship, listen with an open mind and an open heart. At the same time, be sure to express your own complaints with respect, love and humility.
6. Put technology in its place. Put your smartphone in a drawer when you get home and make sure Facebook doesn't replace face-to-face conversation. Nothing is more annoying (or hurtful) than being ignored by partner who is forever texting, posting or updating something or other. Unplug and reconnect with those who matter. They miss you.
7. Stay attractive to your partner. Eating well, staying reasonably fit and dressing nicely doesn't just keep us looking good for our partner, it keeps us feeling good about ourselves. Yet attraction goes beyond appearance. It's about behaviour, too. A spouse who is easygoing, supportive and good-natured is more attractive than one who is short-tempered, self-centered or negative. It also doesn't hurt to have interesting things to talk about, rather than always discussing the kids, work or bills.
8. Past, present and future. Revisit old pics to remember the good times and put down roots. A sense of shared history is important. At the same time, live in the moment and realize that this amazing time in your life -- this time when you and your children all live under the same roof -- will pass faster than you think. Finally, have a shared vision of your future together: it will remind you that life and marriage go on even after the kids have moved on.
Visit MarriageSOS.com and check out Debra's book: Couples in Crisis: Overcoming Affairs & Opposite Sex Friendships
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