Surviving Children

Nov 17 | Tony | No Comments |

Can your marriage survive children? Research shows that marriages are particularly vulnerable during the early years, with the addition of children, and when children start to launch from the home. During these times, the culture, families, and the parents themselves all look forward with such great joy and anticipation. But there is another more sobering truth lurking below the surface: These times, in particular, are times of incredible stress and upheaval for couples.

Allow your mind to float back and reminisce about all the wonderful thoughts, plans, and daydreams you and your partner shared when you were pregnant. As a couple, those conversations brought you closer together in many ways.

Now allow your mind to drift back to today, with the little ones scrambling under your feet (or your teenagers tuning you out). While you may have made good on all those hopes and dreams of becoming great parents, many couples report deep strains in their relationships with each other. Underneath the veneer of good parenting, the couple’s relationship is suffering greatly.

In the old TV show Star Trek, when the Enterprise was under heavy attack they divert full power to its deflector shield while leaving just enough internal power for life support systems. (OK, so I’m a guy.) In much the same way, couples during this period often divert all of their energies to the children, barely saving enough for themselves and almost none for the relationship with their partner.

As a marriage and family therapist, I find that struggling couples with children often need to hear that if they don’t “put the oxygen mask on your relationship first” they are in danger of not making it as a couple.

There are tremendous sacrifices that everyone makes along the way to welcome children into families. Most parents make those sacrifices willingly and without question or hesitation. Deep down, everyone is hoping those sacrifices will also benefit the relationship. Children will bring us closer together, we think. In fact, they often do just the opposite. They expose our weaknesses and biggest challenges in relationship.

There is no easy way through this period for couples. Putting your couple’s oxygen mask on first is a way of continuing to make the relationship a priority even in the midst of very busy, long, and tiring days and nights. Staying connected is not easy with the constant demands that children place on parents. It’s definitely not foreplay, to say the very least!

As a couple, maybe it’s time to sit down together and assess where your energies have been going. Can you re-prioritize and put your relationship back near the top of the list? It takes ongoing effort during this period to keep it there. Each couple nurtures their relationship in different ways. What does it look like for you? If you can at least continue to have the conversation, you give your relationship a fighting chance to survive children.

I-N-T-I-M-A-C-Y

Nov 17 | Tony | No Comments |

Many couples say that it is hard to stay connected during the early years of child rearing. Often, they report a lack of intimacy as the major problem during this time. True intimacy goes far beyond having a date night in order to get re-connected. (Although that can certainly help!) Let’s explore some of the more nuanced aspects of intimacy using the acrostic below. See how many letters resonate with you. Ask your partner to read it, and then compare notes. It just might start you back on the open road to…

I-N-T-I-M-A-C-Y

 I – It always starts with “I” doesn’t it? The closer I am to myself, the more relaxed I am in my own skin, and the more “free and easy” I can be with my partner. What are you doing to tend the relationship to your inner self?

 N –  Never stop building an honest relationship where your partner can feel at ease and comfortable. Only when I am at ease, can I feel secure enough to reach out and draw closer to my partner.

 T – Time and time again. Intimacy is that sweet spot of not being too close (suffocating, co-dependent) or too distant (checked out, unavailable). Over and over again, we try and dial into that comfortable, close place together. It waxes and wanes quite naturally in relationships just as it does within ourselves. Can you share with your partner what it feels like right now?

 I – In the soup. Intimacy is created in relationships. You can’t learn to ride a bike by just reading about it. You have to get out there and be willing to scrape your knees a bit in order to learn…with your partner. (“Ouch, that hurt! Let’s try again.”) Can you learn the dance together?

M – Much ado about nothing. When I have that intimate connection with my partner, it somehow makes all the fuss and muss of life so much easier to bear–even when we are going through really hard times either individually or together. What was the last hard time that you went through during which you felt really connected?

A – Authenticity. Intimacy blossoms when we are our most honest and authentic selves in any given moment. It takes real courage to be authentic at first. Anything less creates space and distance. And then, that space and distance must be dealt with–sooner or later. Where are the spaces between you and your partner? Can you both talk about it?

 C – Choice. At every turn, I can choose to feel what I am feeling, or turn away from my own truths. When I turn away, it takes a while to find my way back home. But once I am there, I am free to invite the ones I love into that sacred space–and just as free to invite them to leave when we have had enough. What are you choosing to do right now?

Y – Yucky stuff! Intimacy reveals the best and worst in each of us in a way that is supportive and actually draws us closer. If you have seen me at my worst, and have not run away, then I can begin trust you and show you more of myself–and vice versa. If I cannot be fully myself with you, intimacy evaporates. I must care take of you by pretending to be whatever version of myself that you want me to be. How have you and your partner held the best and worst of each other?