Can you still be romantic after kids?

Tips to help parents become a couple again


Tracy Frizzell

Ten tips You’re thinking, "Is she kidding? Where, amid a sea of toys, diapers and drippy February noses, am I going to find the energy to have a romantic Valentine’s Day?"

With melted chocolate smeared across my pants and my kids on a permanent sugar high from those little candy hearts, I sometimes think Valentine’s Day may be the least romantic day of the year. But the need for some couple time is no joke. It’s important for your marriage, and for your kids. So here are some tips for fostering your couple connection:

1 Do it for your kids. You are a role model for your kids—and their future relationships, says Linda Rubinowitz, a psychologist and therapist with the Family Institute at Northwestern University. "Children view their parents’ relationship as a model for relationships with friends and for later committed relationships," she says. And if parents are kind, respectful and attentive, their kids will look for those traits in their own relationships, she adds. As Louise Hillegas, a Hinsdale mother of seven explains, "You have to think, ‘How would I want my children to treat themselves when they are parents?’ "

2 Build in time for your relationship. You don’t have to go on a date to connect. Michael and Jamie Voigt, LaGrange Park parents of 1-year-old twins, make it a priority to build couple time into their daily schedule. "I know that, after 7 p.m., they’re in bed, and there’s time for us," says Jamie. Whether it’s after work or first thing in the morning, a few focused minutes can help you to stay connected.

3 Make couple time special. Take a bath together. Cuddle while you read. Listen to music or share a favorite drink or dessert. "In some ways, parents are business partners. Parents need to step back from that sometimes and remember what got them in the relationship in the first place," Rubinowitz says. Taking time to enjoy each other can also give you a positive memory to hold onto when you feel less than romantic.

4 Use technology. Brad Green, Western Springs father of Maddie, 7, and Ryan, 4, often travels. But Brad and his wife, Debbie, keep in touch through e-mail. A quick cell phone call from the road or the airport can also mean a lot when you’re apart—even if it’s just a long day at the office.

5 Just do it. Even if you’d rather hit the hay, having sex can be enjoyable and can help couples become closer emotionally, says Laura Berman, director of the Berman Center, a female sexual health clinic in Chicago and Naperville. "If you just try to have sex, even if you are not inspired to do so, you’ll probably find that, not only do you enjoy it once you get started, but it will improve the connection between the two of you, especially for your male partner. Men in large part achieve a sense of intimacy and connection through having sex," explains Berman, also the author of the new book, The Passion Prescription: Ten Weeks to the Best Sex Ever.

6 Maintain your connection. As parents, our lives can veer in different directions—especially if one parent is the primary caregiver. Make it a priority to share something from your day, every day. Save the kids’ artwork and look at it together. Start a conversation about your partner’s work or hobbies. Develop a common interest. Talk about things you have done to stay connected and build on these.

7 PDAs—public displays of affection—are OK. "Don’t be afraid to share affection in front of your kids," says Shilpa Jobalia, a therapist at Pathways Family Therapy in Arlington Heights and mother of Sedona, 3, and Aiyana, 1. Jobalia says physical expression helps young children understand " … they are not the only priority, that your spouse is equally important."

8 Go beyond the flowers. After my daughter was born, there was suddenly nothing sexier than a man doing dishes. Find out what forms of kindness have meaning for your partner, and act on them. For example, when Brad Green returns from his travels, he often tries to relieve his wife, Debbie, from her weekly mom duties.

9 Keep it fresh. According to Berman, researchers have found a relationship between dopamine (a chemical in the brain) and sexual desire as well as between dopamine release and novelty—trying new things. So whether you take a stab at indoor rock climbing or try a new restaurant, doing something different together can spice things up. If you’re still not in the mood, work out together. In addition to helping people feel good about their bodies, Berman says exercise releases "feel good" chemicals called endorphins, which can help put people in the mood for sex.

10 Surprise your spouse. Pick up dinner from a favorite restaurant; arrange a surprise date with reservations and a sitter; or just offer to make your partner’s lunch. In addition to making plans together, Rubinowitz emphasizes surprises as an important way to value your partner. "You have to think about them, which means you are prioritizing your relationship," she says.

And isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is all about?

Tracy Frizzell is a writer living in Hinsdale with her husband, Brian, and daughters, Elena, 6, and Jenna, 3.

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