to Have a Happy Marriage When You’re
Busy Being Parents
By Elizabeth Pantley
Author of Kid Cooperation, Perfect Parenting
and Hidden Messages
Is your marriage everything
you ever hoped it could be? Or has it been pushed down your
list of priorities since having children?
Let’s face it, parenthood is a full-time job, and it dramatically
changes your marriage relationship. But marriage is the foundation
upon which your entire family is structured. If your marriage
is strong, your whole family will be strong; your life will be
more peaceful, you’ll be a better parent, and you’ll,
quite simply, have more fun in your life.
Make a commitment
To create or maintain
a strong marriage you will have to take the first critical
step: You must be willing to put time, effort
and thought into nurturing your marriage. When I made this statement
during a lecture, one woman spoke up. She had a quiet voice,
but she spoke with determination, “Elizabeth, I hear you,
and I know what you say is right. But I have three preschoolers!
I work part time, do all my own housework, cooking, and laundry.
I just don’t have any more energy at the end of the day
to “work” on my marriage.”
I noticed that several
other women in the room were nodding their heads as she spoke
and they waited for my response. “I
certainly understand! I have four children and my own business,
I know how busy life can be. But let me ask you one vital question:
how would you like to have three preschoolers, work part time,
do your own housework, cooking, and laundry, and do it all as
a single mother? Because if you take care of everything else,
but neglect your marriage, that’s what could happen.”
Suddenly every mother who nodded a minute ago was looking at
me with wide eyes. The thought that their marriage, which was
at the very bottom of their priority list, could be in jeopardy,
hit them very hard. I noticed that I now had the complete attention
of several of the fathers who earlier had been seemed lost in
their own thoughts.
Let’s take another look at the commitment statement mentioned
earlier. You must be willing to put time, effort and thought
into nurturing your marriage. The ideas that follow will help
you follow through on this commitment and will put new life and
meaning into your marriage. A wonderful thing may happen. You
may fall in love with your spouse all over again. In addition,
your children will greatly benefit from your stronger relationship.
Children feel secure when they know that Mom and Dad love each
other—particularly in today’s world, where 50 percent
of marriages end in divorce; half of your children’s friends
have gone, or are going through a divorce; or maybe it’s
your kids who have survived a divorce and are now living in a
new family arrangement. Your children need daily proof that their
family life is stable and predictable. When you make a commitment
to your marriage, your children will feel the difference. No,
they won’t suffer from neglect! They’ll blossom when
your marriage—and their homelife—is thriving.
The surprising secret
is that this doesn’t have to take
any extra time in your already busy schedule. Just a change in
attitude plus a committed focus can yield a stronger, happier
So here’s my challenge to you. Read the following suggestions
and apply them in your marriage for the next 30 days. Then evaluate
your marriage. I guarantee you’ll both be happier.
Look for the good, overlook the bad
You married this person for many good reasons. Your partner
has many wonderful qualities. Your first step in adding sizzle
to your marriage is to look for the good and overlook the bad.
Make it a habit to ignore
the little annoying things — dirty
socks on the floor, a day-old coffee cup on the counter, worn
out flannel pajamas, an inelegant burp at the dinner table — and
choose instead to search for those things that make you smile:
the way he rolls on the floor with the baby; the fact that she
made your favorite cookies, the peace in knowing someone so well
that you can wear your worn out flannels or burp at the table.
Give two compliments every day
Now that you’ve committed to seeing the good in your partner,
it’s time to say it! This is a golden key to your mate’s
heart. Our world is so full of negative input, and we so rarely
get compliments from other people. When we do get a compliment,
it not only makes us feel great about ourselves, it actually
makes us feel great about the person giving the compliment! Think
about it! When your honey says, “You’re the best.
I’m so glad I married you.” It not only makes you
feel loved, it makes you feel more loving.
Compliments are easy to
give, take such a little bit of time, and they’re free. Compliments are powerful; you just have
to make the effort to say them. Anything works: “Dinner
was great, you make my favorite sauce.” “Thanks for
picking up the cleaning. It was very thoughtful, you saved me
a trip.” “That sweater looks great on you.”
That may sound funny to
you, but think about it. How many times do you see -- or experience
-- partners treating each other in
impolite, harsh ways that they’d never even treat a friend?
Sometimes we take our partners for granted and unintentionally
display rudeness. As the saying goes, if you have a choice between
being right and being nice, just choose to be nice. Or to put
this in the wise words of Bambi’s friend Thumper, the bunny
rabbit – “If you can’t say somethin’ nice
don’t say nothin’ at all.”
Pick your battles
How often have you heard
this advice about parenting? This is great advice for child-rearing—and it’s great advice
to follow in your marriage as well. In any human relationship
there will be disagreement and conflict. The key here is to decide
which issues are worth pursuing and which are better off ignored.
By doing this, you’ll find much less negative energy between
From now on, anytime you
feel annoyed, take a minute to examine the issue at hand, and
ask yourself a few questions. “How
important is this?” “Is this worth picking a fight
over?” “What would be the benefit of choosing this
battle versus letting it go?”
The 60 second cuddle
You can often identify
a newly married couple just by how much they touch each other — holding hands, sitting close, touching
arms, kissing — just as you can spot an “oldly-married” couple
by how little they touch. Mothers, in particular, often have
less need for physical contact with their partners because their
babies and young children provide so much opportunity for touch
and cuddling that day’s end finds them “touched fulfilled”.
So here’s a simple reminder: make the effort to touch your
spouse more often. A pat, a hug, a kiss, a shoulder massage – the
good feeling it produces for both of you far outweighs the effort.
Here’s the deal: Whenever you’ve been apart make
it a rule that you will take just 60 seconds to cuddle, touch
and connect. This can be addictive! If you follow this advice
soon you’ll find yourselves touching each other more often,
and increasing the romantic aspect of your relationship.
Spend more time talking to and listening to your partner.
I don’t mean, “Remember to pick up Jimmy’s
soccer uniform.” Or “I have a PTA meeting tonight.” Rather,
get into the habit of sharing your thoughts about what you read
in the paper, what you watch on TV, your hopes, your dreams,
your concerns. Take a special interest in those things that your
spouse is interested in and ask questions. And then listen to
Spend time with your spouse
It can be very difficult
for your marriage to thrive if you spend all your time being “Mommy” and “Daddy”.
You need to spend regular time as “Husband” and “Wife”.
This doesn’t mean you have to take a two-week vacation
in Hawaii. (Although that might be nice, too!) Just take small
daily snippets of time when you can enjoy uninterrupted conversation,
or even just quiet companionship, without a baby on your hip,
a child tugging your shirtsleeve or a teenager begging for the
car keys. A daily morning walk around the block or a shared cup
of tea after all the children are in bed might work wonders to
re-connect you to each other. And yes, it’s quite fine
to talk about your children when you’re spending your time
together, because, after all, your children are one of the most
important connections you have in your relationship.
When you and your spouse
regularly connect in a way that nurtures your relationship,
you may find a renewed love between you, as
well as a refreshed vigor that will allow you to be a better,
more loving parent. You owe it to yourself — and to your
kids — to nurture your relationship.
So take my challenge and use these ideas for the next 30 days.
And watch your marriage take on a whole new glow.
Parts of this article are excerpted with permission from books
by Elizabeth Pantley:
Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging and Pleading
Hidden Messages: What Our Words and Actions are Really Telling
by New Harbinger Publications, Inc. and by McGraw-Hill/Contemporary