You’re head over heels in love with your spouse, but throw some kids into the mix and suddenly your rock solid bond starts to break down.
Between sleepless nights, an endless list of chores, and no time for yourself or each other, having a baby takes a toll on most relationships.
In fact, 64 percent of couples had a concern about their relationship that they didn’t before having a baby, according to a recent survey by OnePlusOne.
“People get efficient instead of romantic,” according to Dr. Pepper Schwartz, co-author of The Normal Bar, who said after having a baby, many couples start living parallel lives and quit being partners.
And although it’s inevitable that you’ll have challenges, there are things you can do to keep your marriage strong everyday. Here are 11:
Carve out time.
According to Shaunti Feldhahn, a social researcher and author of The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, making a conscious effort to spend time together, even in an informal way, is the key to a healthy relationship. So even if you don’t have time for a date night, or your kids are in tow, find some way to connect.
Create daily rituals.
Doing something everyday for your partner—coffee in bed or getting the kids ready—reminds you that you care for each other, according to Dr. Francine Lederer, clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, Calif. and a Bringing Baby Home John Gottman educator.
Yes, keep score.
Instead of keeping tabs on how much you’re doing and how much your partner isn’t, if you think about what the other is giving, you’ll be more likely to want to reciprocate. “There’s an automatic sense of I want to give back,” Feldhahn said.
Whisper sweet nothings.
What you say to each other can make you feel cared for and keep your relationship strong even when stress is in the full force, according to Feldhahn. For men, saying thank you makes them feel appreciated, respected and trusted. And women want to know that they’re loved so showing affection or even a sweet text can convey that.
Watch TV, take up a new hobby, or play a game—whatever it is, do it together most days. “Make sure that you have a lot of time that’s giving you positive feedback about each other,” Schwartz said.
“Scheduling sex is the new foreplay for new parents,” Lederer said. Sure, it’s not romantic, but with a new baby, it might be the only way to make sure it happens. Not in the mood? Make time for intimacy, touch and affection, even if it’s just holding hands.
Instead of grand gestures of love, make a habit of offering to help out in small ways and let him reciprocate: you watch the kids for an hour and I’ll drop your clothes off at the cleaners. “What we’re trying to rebuild is appreciation and respect in the relationship,” Lederer said.
Compliment each other.
When you’re stressed out and sleep deprived, it’s easy to criticize your partner’s shortcomings, but if you acknowledge what you both did right and praise each other for it, it bodes well for the relationship.
Amidst the seriousness of work and raising children, find the lighthearted moments and humor in life. Crack a joke, watch a funny movie, and laugh together.
Drop the kids off at grandma’s house for a night or have a few babysitters you can call so you and your partner can go out.
If your relationship problems aren’t improving, talking to a therapist or marriage counselor can help.