Marriage is awesome! It’s like a sleepover with your best friend every night and you always have a shoulder to lean on. Then you have kids and everything changes. You’ve probably been told this before, and you may have heard advice like, “Have a regular date night or watch movies and play board games together after bedtime.” While this kind of advice is totally helpful, I’d like to take a look at a few less-mentioned ideas that have helped my own marriage after our baby was born.
Couch time is a simple idea that has made a great impact on many marriages. Schedule time into your daily routine where you simply talk with your spouse in front of your kids. Talk about anything, no screens allowed. Touching base makes couch time what it is. Even though kids are not involved in this ritual, they should see it happen, and it doesn’t actually have to happen on a couch!
We put intention into couch time since our daughter’s birth. Things got more difficult during toddlerhood, with our little one climbing up and wedging herself between us, so dinner has been our most successful implementation: I feed our daughter first, and she stays in her high chair watching us talk and eating a bit more. Her screen time or independent play time are two other good times for our couch time. And if it’s a major struggle to talk while the kids are awake, I’d say it’s fine to share some screen-free time catching up after your children’s bedtime (while continuing to work towards a solution to do it while they’re awake).
Keep your house clean
A clean house can fall straight to the bottom of your priority list once kids come along. Not only do they make a mess but your tasks multiply exponentially. I know it’s so easy to just accept a messy home as the new normal, but actually living within clutter can raise stress levels and make it less likely for you and your spouse to live harmoniously.
I’m not saying that you should kill yourself keeping your house spotless, but I am saying that you should sit down with your partner and make a list of specific tasks and how often they should be done to keep your home reasonably clean. Cleaning might be done by one or both partners, and some jobs may be hired out. Specific tasks should be agreed upon and assigned, and the person who does them decides how and when to carry them out (this reduces nagging on either side).
After our baby was born, I stayed home while my husband worked tough hours. For us, it worked best if I took on most of the chores. We chose a few jobs (trash and litter box) for him to take responsibility for, and I did the rest.
For a while, it was smooth sailing. Then a tough sleep regression hit. I was struggling with exhaustion, so I let what I thought were the least important jobs slip. Soon after, tension was high between my husband and me. He seemed irritated that the house wasn’t clean, and I became upset that he didn’t understand my limits. This was one of our toughest times post baby. Finally, per a friend’s suggestion, I asked him what his top three priorities were. I was shocked to discover that his top three priorities were exactly the jobs I had dismissed as least important. Having this discussion changed everything. I highly encourage both you and your partner to decide upon your top three priorities for cleanliness and/or organization, and for you both to figure out a system for all six (or less if you have overlap) of these jobs to get done.
Girls Night Out
Wait a minute. Didn’t I say this article is about prioritizing your marriage? Believe it or not, filling your cup outside of your relationship benefits mutual attraction. In my case, date nights weren’t quiet cutting it, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then it hit me – not only did putting all of my social outlet needs on my husband put too much pressure on both of us, but it also reduced my identity outside of our partnership to that of a mother. He’s definitely drawn to me in that role, and it’s surely my primary identity outside of being a wife, but I do have additional needs and relationships. Nurturing these relationships with my friends keeps me interesting and attractive, and helps my husband see that I am still just as fun as pre-baby (well. . . almost, anyway!).
I had everything planned out. As baby reached three months old, I’d restart weekly yoga classes, and monthly date nights would start after six months. In reality, I went to yoga a few times, and I realized it just wasn’t as important as it had been. Our date nights were fun, but the mom hangover (when you have to wake up early and be on mom duty instead of sleeping in and recovering) wasn’t worth it. We did plenty of date nights at home to help meet our needs, while respecting my limits, and got back to going out when our baby reached closer to one and a half. In other words, we kept the same goal, but worked at an appropriate pace for our individual family.
Everything I’ve suggested – making time for couch time, prioritizing a clean house, going out with your girlfriends, and pacing yourself – as well as everything else that might nurture your relationship post-baby, will fail if you’re not ready. Let’s face it: having a baby changes how much you can mentally, physically, and emotionally handle. Don’t push any of this too hard. Go slow, and find out what works in this moment. What really matters is a mindset that prioritizes your relationship.