Healthy Minds, Healthy Souls: Parental Happiness

For the many of the parents out there, you know that once a couple’ brings home a baby, their time together is never the same. Despite the fact that children bring immense joy, endless amounts of fun and unconditional love, two-thirds of couples describe the quality of their relationship dropping within the first three years of the birth of a child. Parents realize that a once fun-filled marriage is now, suddenly, filled with child rearing responsibilities, additional household chores, and less time to just exist together. Date nights now have to be planned, babysitters arranged, and dinnertime conversations are often child focused. I hear many couples complain that they began to feel more like business partners than romantic partners once their children came along. Couples are just not spending the quality time together that healthy marriages require to grow. It’s easy to forget to take care of the marital relationship because there are more pressing demands on our attention than there are minutes in the day. But, healthy marriages are built on a sound friendship and sound friendships require quality time and regular, intentional communication.

So, what are we to do in a world that doesn’t support us in this mission? A world that is filled with distraction, stress and more than we can keep up with? How do we make time and space for one of the most important and precious relationships God has placed in our life?

I think anything is possible, so long as we actively decide it is important enough to devote time and energy to changing. Start by trying to use healthy communication skills with your spouse to discuss “hot topics” that might stir up anger: gentle start up (I statements), followed by a polite request for what you need without assigning blame, shame and pain to your partner. In this way, you are more likely to actually want to spend time with your partner!

Next, attempt to carve out more stress-free time together to simply have fun as a couple. Laugh together, play together, get silly again! Remember, you are more than a parent! Our identities are made up of many roles and to truly feel happy, we have to devote time to each area of our life that makes you uniquely you! Aim for at least 20 minutes a day to talk with your partner. Try to go beyond talk of household responsibilities and kid logistics. Not everything should be problem solving about your children! Remember to set aside time to inquire about each other’s dreams, the legacy’s you are trying to leave behind, and each other’s life mission outside of being a parent.

I love the approach John Gottman (world renowned couples psychologist) uses when he talks about building and maintaining what he refers to as “rituals of connection.” Be intentional about things as simple as rituals of:

  • How you say goodbye in the morning before a workday
  • How you greet each other when you come home from work
  • How you wind down together after dinner
  • How you go to bed at night
  • How often you plan and have a relationship date
  • How you work through the stressors you face outside the relationship (this is called the “stress reducing conversation” – This is an opportunity to connect to your spouse after a stressful day, when you feel like it’s you guys against the world!)

In this way, the marriage can depend on regular, ritualized means of connection so that it never gets left behind.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
– Ephesians 5:31-32

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