By Judith Doherty
Twelve years and two children into marriage I observe a disconnect among men and women who professed love to each other and lost the spark along the way of parenting. Women seem to connect more readily with each other than with their husbands when the children are small. Anecdotes about breastfeeding and discipline styles get traded with recipes, but the men seem to be outside of the circle.
How can couples keep a dating mentality during the childrearing years?
Certain months I am flooded with old love feelings that gush from me and make me nostalgic for new romance with the same partner who has been right next to me in bed all these years. Those days are harmonious, even more special than a new romance can be because the love is rooted in so much depth from the whole life shared. But if the truth be told, even in so-called “good marriages” romance feels fleeting. One night we might reconnect by the fireside. The next morning we are launched back into routines of alarm clocks, school buses and crying kids.
One challenge, as I see it, is the “roommate” issue. Contrast friends who visit each other periodically and share the best of themselves with husbands and wives who are apt to witness the worst of each other in daily strife. Just as with college roommates or siblings growing up, close proximity can lead to friction in married life.
To make matters even harder, parenting presents obstacles to romance and at the same time more pressures that extinguish the fire of passion. Our two-year-old, for instance, has greater stamina than I do. That night owl is a darling, but she can outlast me. I continue to rise and shine with our school aged girl, so I’m wiped out by 9PM, when the two-year-old continues to giggle and play with daddy until 10PM. So alone time is a commodity we find hard to come by.
Now that we have explored the obstacles to romance, let’s look at what might provide spark this winter. My sister and her husband used to feed the kids early and get them to bed. Then once a week they had a gourmet dinner by candlelight. It seemed like a lot of work to me but to them it was a luscious tradition. For some couples it could be as simple as order out Chinese food on a picnic blanket in the living room.
Spending money for a babysitter so you can really get away from the chores and routines of the home can change the conversation. My parents dated each other on Saturday nights for many years. That example sticks with me and even if I don’t achieve it as often as I’d like when we do get out it is refreshing to the marriage.
Set aside time to talk, when the children aren’t listening in. We call it “15 minutes of cuddling” which sometimes leads to more. The close contact helps us to feel united.
Consider hiring outside help for housecleaning, if the frustration around household chores is eating away at the little time you have together. I had never believed in hiring people to clean, but when I realized that the fights I had with me husband were most often about the messy house I acknowledged that paying for assistance might relieve that pressure, I went for it.
What excites a woman changes after the children come and demand so much of her energy. I remember that hearing my husband running the vacuum cleaner was the best turn on in the toddler years.
Exercise together - It’s fun to play with your partner. Even if the children are in the sport with you the body play can be an outlet and a joy that releases tension and creates fun memories.
Some couples manage to get away to a hotel. Friends of ours actually hire a sitter and go to a hotel in the same area where they live just for the thrill of escaping their responsibilities and relaxing together.
Laughter can help renew romance. Often cuddling for a late night sitcom can rekindle our connection.
Love letters might seem a stretch but John Grey, who wrote the famous book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus has a technique for clearing the air in cases where couples have lost a connection.
For each couple the points of connection will be different but as my husband said when we were dating, ”Love ought to be like kids in a playground, exploring and having fun.” So carving out time and space, however you can do it, to sneak away from the kids and toward each other seems worth the investment. And in these economic times it will provide greater dividends than most investments.
Judith Doherty is a Central MA mom of two young daughters as well as freelance writer.