Staying connected with your partner once you have children takes energy and time.
Hmm, both things I often feel like I’m lacking!
What about you?
It was much easier before you had children, wasn’t it? You could sit and talk for hours, go out for dinner, go on holidays or long drives and do the things you love together. There were lots of opportunities for connecting and you were each other’s priority.
Now, as parents, you’re exhausted most of the time, the children always need you, your conversations are constantly interrupted, and you’re trying to work and keep your lives in some sort of order. There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done, let alone make time for romance, intimacy and really connecting.
Dr John and Julie Gottman (The Gottman Institute) have been studying relationship health for over 40 years and found that 67% of couples report a decline in relationship happiness for up to three years after the birth of their first child. It can be a disappointing reality, stacked up against the idyllic images of family life you had before your first baby arrived.
Just like many parents, my husband and I have found it hard to have focused, quality time together.
My step children are older and independent and are off doing their own things a lot of the time. But our little boy is at a very different stage. He’s never liked being away from me and is even quite possessive of me. He’ll come running as soon as my husband is getting any of my attention. We’ve had a few dates while select family members cared for him, but it hasn’t been a regular occurrence.
It became even harder once I started working again. I do most of my work at night, and so on those nights, my husband and I hardly get a chance to connect, as I try to capitalise on every bit of time available.
Weekends are good, but they’re also full of other things that need doing – swimming lessons, gardening, home maintenance, grocery shopping and catching up with friends and family.
TV nights are relaxing, but they don’t help us feel really connected because our attention isn’t on each other.
We both wanted more and we missed the deep connection we had before our family grew again.
So, we decided to try something new. And “yoga night” was born.
You’re probably imagining us holding some contorted yoga pose now but we don’t actually do any yoga on yoga night! When we started this habit, we were incorporating yoga style stretching in our time together (we’re runners who need to stretch!). We don’t actually do that all the time but the name has stuck as a bit of a joke in our house.
Staying connected after children: the yoga night low-down
Yoga night is actually our non-negotiable connecting night. Every Monday night, after our little boy is asleep, we go into our study or rumpus room, close the door and spend time talking. About anything and everything. Not just superficial things. We talk about our finances, our relationship, the kids, family events, what’s stressing us, our hopes and dreams for the future, things that have made us happy or upset, our fears, or things that the other person has done that have hurt our feelings.
- We’re fully present for as long as it takes for the conversation to naturally end
- No technology
- No topic is off-limits.
We might talk for 90 mins and decide to have an early night. Or we talk for hours. It just depends on what comes up.
We often bring things to talk about and new topics always come up during the conversation.
Sometimes we’ll do something as part of the conversation – for example, we created a shared vision board for our relationship and took the Gottman Institute’s Love Maps Questionnaire, which is a series of questions that tests how well you know your partner. Try it! We thought it was great!
Yoga night has been incredibly beneficial for us. It strengthens our relationship because:
- We feel like we’re on the same team, doing life together
- There’s always uninterrupted time to deal with bigger or difficult topics so they don’t have to be dealt with in the heat of the moment or when we’re distracted
- We’re able to get into deeper, authentic conversations about how we feel, as the dedicated distraction (and technology) free time, allows us to think, get vulnerable and explore topics further.
My favourite benefit of yoga night, is the fact that we have an opportunity to be really understood by each other.
How we normally listen
If you’re like most people, when you’re having a conversation with your partner, you’re probably seeking to be understood and get your point across, rather than to understand them.
If that’s happening, you may:
- Ignore what they’re saying
- Only hear parts of what they’re saying
- Pretend that you’re listening, or
- Focus on the words and miss the real meaning.
In these moments, your brain is busy preparing what you’re going to say next.
It’s also filtering everything you hear through your own experiences (this is called autobiographical listening). Your brain evaluates and judges what’s being said, interprets it based on what you know and looks for opportunities to interject with your own stories and advice. So, you might say things like “that happened to me too”, “you should….”, “let me tell you about what I did when that happened” or “I know how you feel!”.
I’m sure many mums can recall a time when they wanted to share their frustration about a situation with their partner and they were quickly issued a solution, with little or no empathy. Maybe you’ve responded this way to someone else too.
If you’re seeking suggestions, then this sort of response might be appropriate. However, it can get in the way of someone feeling really understood.
Listen empathetically to really connect
Empathetic listening is the highest level of listening. It involves listening until the other person feels understood. That’s different to listening until you think you understand.
When you listen empathetically, you listen with your ears, eyes and heart. You don’t just hear the words, but you observe body language and facial expressions. You hear the tone in their voice and you listen for the feelings and meaning delivered with the words. With this approach, you understand their reality so much better.
Empathetic listening takes practice and is much easier to accomplish in a distraction free environment without time pressures, so yoga night is the perfect setting!
The Gottman Institute identified that women initiate conflict discussions nearly 80% of the time. If this is true in your relationship, you might find that your partner is more willing to open up given dedicated time and empathetic listening.
Make connecting a priority
Yoga night is a priority for us both. We don’t compromise on it. We say no to other things that arise on Monday nights. And if something really can’t be avoided or would be really beneficial, then we reschedule to another agreed night.
My husband tells me that people are very surprised when he mentions our Monday night ritual. He suspects that no one else he knows does it. Maybe we’re weird, but I can tell you it’s had a huge impact on how connected we feel and how we manage life together.
Do you think you and your partner would benefit from something similar to yoga night?
Could you dedicate one night a week (or any other time that suits your schedules) to really connecting and staying strong as a couple?
Let’s make a plan right now, lovely.
What’s one thing you can do to invest in your relationship and stay connected with your partner in this very busy stage of life?