Has your relationship with your partner changed since you became parents?
I’m guessing your answer is “yes”.
Having children changes relationships. In both positive and challenging ways.
A number of studies have indicated that for many couples, martial satisfaction declines after having children. What was once romantic and exciting, is now mostly transactional and rushed. There’s often more snuggling with your children than your partner.
Yes, you’re a mum, but you’re also a woman, and part of a couple. Your need for love and connection doesn’t change when you become a mum. Your desire to live life with someone doesn’t change. But they can be overshadowed by the demands of parenting.
My husband says that I am his priority because when the kids are all grown and living their own lives, he and I will be left to live our life together. We have to invest in our relationship, so that we can be strong and enjoy it now and but also so we have a deep connection when the need to actively parent everyday is over. Of course, it’s also beneficial for children to see their parents in a loving, strong relationship.
So, how do you manage to stay connected and bring some romance back into your relationship in this very busy stage of life?
Some people swear by child-free holidays, weekends away, fancy nights out or flashy gifts. These less frequent, special occasions are lovely, but John Gottman’s extensive research on relationships and marriage, show that it’s the little things that have the most significant impact on the health and longevity of your relationship.
You might schedule regular dates with your partner. For example, dinner, coffee, a movie, a hike, Netflix or cheese and wine. You could stay at home or go out. We have our “yoga night” which has made a huge difference to how connected we feel.
Right now, though, I’m going to focus on something even more simple and manageable.
Little everyday moments.
No cost, a little time, and a whole lot of love and intention. As the Gottman Institute says, the recipe for making relationships last is “small things often”.
Small things often for trust, intimacy, strength and longevity
The Gottman Institute recommends these small, everyday ways to connect and build even more trust and intimacy in your relationship, keeping it strong and long lasting. I have used these tips myself and seen the difference they can make.
1. Make the most of greetings and farewells
Make your hellos and goodbyes intentional and affectionate.
Instead of yelling “bye!” from the other end of the house, take a couple of minutes to hug, kiss, make eye contact and wish each other a good day. My husband loves when we go to the door with him to say goodbye.
Do something similar when you come back together again, making it clear that you’re glad to see your partner. This can be challenging if your partner returns during the craziness of the evening / dinner / bedtime routine, but doing it in this context can be even more meaningful because it takes intention and effort. Greeting each other like this regularly will help you look forward to seeing each other.
2. Communicate when you are apart
Feel connected with a quick call to check in or share something that’s happened in your day. A selfie or photo of whatever you’re doing. Flirty or loving messages; “I love you”, “miss you”, “thinking about you” or “can’t wait to see you later”.
You already know how to do this, because you did it all the time when you were dating!
3. Communicate without distractions for a few minutes every day
John Gottman found that just two minutes of undistracted communication can be more important than a whole unfocused week spent together. Only two minutes! Surely we can find two minutes!
We do this at night, because we don’t always see each other in the morning.
We can all communicate without really being present. But to build intimacy and trust in your relationship, you need to really listen. That means:
- Eliminating distractions, including muting or turning off the TV, putting down the phone, avoiding multitasking.
- Asking questions to find out more (when they are finished speaking, rather than interrupting).
- Giving non-verbal signals of interest and understanding, including nodding, smiling and eye contact.
- Listening to their tone, and reading their body language and facial expressions to really understand how they are feeling and what they are saying. Sometimes things are not said but are still being communicated.
4. Understand what’s happening for them
When you’ve got a little extra time, find out what’s going on in your partner’s life beyond what you can see. For example, what’s stressing them out, the challenges they’re facing, the things that have made them happy. Ask questions, because you can’t assume they’ll tell you everything that’s important, especially when there is so much going on at home. You could start with a conversation about the events of the day, if that makes it easier to transition to something deeper.
5. Show physical affection
Physical contact releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which can build trust, reduce your stress levels and improve your relationship satisfaction. It could be a passing squeeze, quick shoulder massage, brushing past each other, holding hands, or a cuddle on the lounge or before going to sleep. Long hugs (even up to 20 seconds) are particularly good at boosting oxytocin levels and a daily six second kiss will increase your emotional and physical intimacy.
6. Do something kind to show that they matter
How do you feel when your partner does something for you, out of the blue?
I love when my husband sees a basket full of laundry waiting to be hung out and he does it for me. Or when he empties the dishwasher before I even get up in the morning. I also love when he tells my son what a wonderful mummy he has!
What is something kind that you do for your partner to show him that he matters?
My husband loves it when I:
- Pop leftovers in a container ready for him to take for lunch the next day (I do this when I’m cleaning up after dinner)
- Iron his shirt (he usually does all his own ironing)
- Write him an affectionate note
- Turn the electric blanket on before he comes to bed
- Set aside a portion for him when I’m baking snacks for our son or making a smoothie
- Grab him a coffee while we’re out shopping.
Remember that these small, regular acts of kindness can be much more impactful that the infrequent more excessive gestures.
7. Focus on compliments and gratitude
Over time, people tend to think more about the things they dislike or resent in their relationships, than the things they’re grateful for. Whatever we focus on grows, so if you’re always focusing on the negative, your relationship satisfaction will be much lower.
Instead, choose to focus on the the positive qualities of your partner and tell them what you appreciate about them.
Also, when they do something for you, say thanks! No matter how big or small it was.
If you have a gratitude journal, this is an easy one to incorporate into what you already do. Just remember to also communicate your gratitude to your partner!
I’m not suggesting that you say you agree, when you actually don’t agree. There are plenty of opportunities to express agreement, when we might normally say nothing or offer an opposing perspective. By simply saying something like “yes, I think you’re right”, or “great point”, you create the feeling of being on the same page. When you can’t agree, expressing understanding or appreciation of your partner’s perspective is also meaningful. For example “I can see why you would feel that way” or “I can hear how important that is to you”.
9. Be playful
This is very important to my husband and when I’m stressed, I’m not so good at it!
How do you and your partner play?
A little banter or silliness. A dance around the kitchen. Singing a song together for your kids. Sharing a joke. It can be anything that you both enjoy.
Laughing together is a great connector and in-jokes create a sense of togetherness.
10. Turn towards each other
According to the Gottman Institute, we all make little bids for connection all the time. It’s basically any time one of you tries to engage the other for attention, affection, affirmation, or any other positive connection.
For example, while watching the football, my husband might say to me “this is a great game”. Now, given I couldn’t really care less about football, I’d be tempted to say “oh, good” and keep on walking. In this case, I would be turning away from him because I’m not thinking about it as a bid for connection. I’m just thinking about it as boring football. But his comment is his attempt to share something he loves with me and so by stopping for a moment to acknowledge the score, ask what’s going on, why it’s so good, or who he tipped, he feels that I’m connecting with him and appreciating what he loves. This would be turning towards him.
In one of Gottman’s studies, he found that couples who stayed together over time accepted each other’s bids for connection and turned toward each other 86% of the time. Those who eventually divorced turned towards each other only 33% of the time.
Turning towards your partner indicates that they matter to you.
In what situations could you turn towards your partner, instead of away?
Some of these tips will not be surprising or new to you. They are simple (in concept, but sometimes less simple to do), everyday actions you can take to create more intimacy, trust and romance in your relationship. However, I believe that the simple things are often the most powerful, but they are also the ones we most often overlook or forget about.
So, if you want to improve your relationship with your partner in the midst of parenting, make a decision right now.
Which of these tips will you start implementing today?
Maybe you can even share them with your partner and choose one to work on together.