The importance of being a couple, not just parents

Get expert advice on staying connected as a couple as you navigate parenthood.

Couple sitting on sofa apart and being angry after quarrel.

Parenting is exhausting. The days are long and the needs of family, home and work can be overwhelming. So it’s easy to see how couples can drift apart during the chaotic years with young children.

The good news is that feeling disconnected as a couple once you have children is completely normal.

“When couples transition from being lovers into also being teammates who are working together to raise a human being, it has a massive impact on their bond,” says Dr. Laura Berman, a New York Times best-selling author and renowned sex and relationship therapist.

“From lack of sleep to shifting hormones to physical exhaustion, becoming a parent is one of the most difficult things you will ever do. You are both enduring these enormous physical and emotional changes, which makes it natural for your relationship to change,” she says.

It’s common for parents to become more businesslike with each other as they tend to the details of parenting. Basics like grocery lists and carpool pickup replace the latest gossip at work or naughty banter that occurred pre-kids.

Tune in, not out

If you’ve reach a point where you only talk to your spouse about the kids or errands, that’s a sign your connection is drifting.

“Once your relationship outside of the kids has totally been eradicated (i.e. you never talk about books or politics or your shared love of sports or theater), then you should be aware that you are headed down a dangerous path,” Berman warns.

“Lack of sex is also a sign, but really lack of connection in general. You don’t look up from your phone when she walks in the door after work. You don’t bother to pick up his favorite beer at the supermarket. You don’t give hugs, kisses or use pet names anymore.”

Yet realizing the lack of communication is the first step to reconnecting.

Berman has a few simple suggestions to get back on track.

Remove the TV from your bedroom. Television sucks up time that couples could be spending together when the kids are asleep. Ban smartphones and laptops, too.Set an intention to spend 20 minutes each day connecting with your spouse outside of your parenting duties. Don’t talk about the kids, school, errands or the bills. Just snuggle on the couch, have a glass of wine and talk about your dreams.

Stop thinking “It’s not my turn.” Often couples play the blame game and think, “It’s not my turn to be romantic, plan a date night, etc.” And they sit there and seethe in bitterness and wait for their partner to plan something. You have to create the energy you want in your relationship. If you want a playful, sexy relationship, you have to be playful and sexy. You have to bring that energy and passion with you, rather than expecting your partner to create it for you because it’s “his turn.”

Making time

Stop tending to your spouse’s feelings as just another thing on your “to-do” list.

“Having children adds vast layers of complexity to a relationship,” says Aniko Blake, therapist at the Chicago Center for Relationship Counseling. But putting importance on navigating couplehood along with parenthood can help when challenges come up.

Plus, this shows the kids what an adult relationship can—and should—look like, she says.Berman says: “The absolute best gift you can give your kids is two parents who are healthy, happy and fulfilled, so carve out time to work on your marriage.”

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