Married life is, of course, far different than single life. There are a lot of adjustments each person may need to make, and that goes double when you're married with children. Marriage and kids can each, in their own ways, be stressful experiences on a person, and sometimes you might need help, either individually or together as a couple. It can be easy to think you've got the whole married, parent thing down, but there are some things couples therapists wants you to know about marriage and kids.
Let's get this out of the way first: it is completely OK to ask for help working on any relationship, whether that's the relationship with your partner, a family member, a friend, or anyone else. It doesn't mean you've failed or even that there's anything "wrong." Everyone needs a hand sometimes. Couples therapists work with people on their relationships all day, every day, and there are some things they've learned along the way that they want everyday couples like you and your partner to know. These tips will help make your busy life as a married couple and parents of little ones a little bit easier and your relationships, hopefully, a little bit stronger.
1. Be Prepared
There's no getting around it — introducing kids into a household that was previously just the two of you can make things vastly different, and also maybe a little bit stressful. According to Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman, a psychologist, relationship expert, couples therapist, and author of Dating from the Inside Out, The Book of Sacred Baths, and others, children disrupt established routines, which can make things difficult. Also, as licensed marital and family therapist Dr. L. Gordon Brewer, Jr. tells Romper, those routines will likely change again as your children grow up. If you're mentally prepared for the changes, that's a good first step towards handling them relatively well. Know things will change for the time being, but that it won't be that way forever.
2. You're On The Same Team
Sometimes it can be hard to remember that you're working together, on the same team, rather than on different sides. "While your experiences of marriage and parenting may be different, you are in the same boat," Dr. Julienne Derichs, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor based in Chicago, tells Romper via e-mail. "At different times, you both feel irritable, tired, frustrated, rejected, loving, amorous, and more. If you see your SO as the enemy one of you will be pushed out of the boat. Be kind, be warm, softened your heart and you can get through this together with more understanding and love." Although it's understandable to occasionally be frustrated with or argue with your partner, at the end of the day, it's the two of you against the world.
3. Maintain Your Marriage
This is important whether you have children or not, but continually keeping an eye on your marriage is important for a relationship that goes the distance. Brewer suggests finding a hobby that you and your partner can do together to help you to devote time to just the two of you. Also, regular date nights can be another good way to focus on you as a couple. Jessica Elizabeth Opert, a love and relationship coach, tells Romper that, "real intimacy mostly comes from making sure there are some daily 'stolen' moments that are focused solely on each other. This can be five minutes of quiet cuddle time before bed, text messaged 'I love yous,' bi-weekly lunch dates near your offices, [or] quick hand-written love notes tucked into coat pockets, for example." Focusing on parenting is, of course, important, however, it's really important not to neglect the relationship between the two of you.
4. Make Time For Alone Time
Family and couple time are both extremely important, but so is individual alone time. Not only does it allow you time to take care of yourself, which Sherman says can help reduce stress, but it also lets you invest your time in yourself, doing things that you love and that are a part of you separate from your relationship or children. It's also important in teaching your children that being alone, at least sometimes, is part of life. Kristie Overstreet, psychotherapist and certified sex therapist, tells Romper that you should, show your children the importance of having your own interest and activities. "Show your children the importance of independence by each parent having individual hobbies," she says. "Encourage your children to spend time alone in their room. This helps them see that it is okay to be alone at times as well as it’s healthy to be independent even as adults."
5. Talk About Something Else
It's easy to spend a lot of time each day talking about your kids, and that's perfectly normal, but it's also important to take the time to talk to each other about everything else. At the same time, talking about how you envision parenting in a general sense is important, so that you both know where you stand. "Talk about your parenting styles and expectations before having kids to come to a shared style as much as possible," Sherman says. "Try to be a united front in front of the kids and argue in private when possible. Communicate often when alone about how things are going and how you are feeling." Couples chats about your relationship, your day, or anything else, are important when it comes to keeping your marriage - and family - strong.
6. Recruit Help
Raising children is difficult, which is not news to you. It's helpful to have a support system of family members, friends, neighbors, or babysitters, to take some of the pressure off of just you, Brewer says. It enables you to put more emphasis on your relationship from time to time, which is important for success.
7. Show Your Appreciation
When you're interacting with the same people day in and day out, sometimes it can be easy to forget that you haven't thanked them for anything, no matter how small, in a while. A little gratitude and appreciation can go a long way, especially when you're both feeling a bit rundown. "Sleep deprivation helps couples feel more emotionally out of control," Derichs says. "The daily 'headaches' of life seem more intense and you may start to think your relationship is bad. Challenge that thought. You are tired and your resources are depleted. You are working harder and feeling unappreciated. Remember you are both going through a major life transition. Add statements of appreciation to your relationship everyday,."
8. Take Turns
Although the bulk of day-to-day parenting may fall disproportionately to one parent or another, Brewer recommends you try to divvy things up and take turns, especially when it comes to staying up (or getting up) with a baby or toddler. One parent gets sleep on the first night and the other gets sleep the next night, he says.
9. Compliment One Another
Compliments, admiration, and a little bit of flirting is still important even after marriage and kids. Opert has had clients commit to giving each other at least two compliments everyday. "It was clunky at first, but soon became an effortless habit," Opert says. "This is a simple, proven method to boost one another up and especially for new parents who are often fraught with all that may be doing wrong and seemingly endless criticisms abound on the internet all day," she says. Remember, you're each other's best source of love and support. So cheer on your teammate.