Becoming a parent can really test your bond as a couple. Sure, your baby needs your constant love and attention, but caring for your marriage is just as important as caring for your baby. “We tend to focus more on our children than our marriage, which is a formula for disaster,” according to Michele Weiner-Davis, author of divorcebusting.com and The Sex-Starved Marriage, who said the best thing you can do for your children is to put your marriage first.
Here, check out some of the best ways you can keep your marriage going strong.
Make time for each other
Spending time together—yes, alone, without children underfoot, is one of the best ways to keep your marriage healthy. Schedule regular date nights and carve out time every morning or evening to connect, even if it’s just for 5 or 10 minutes. “It’s such a little bit of time that can get you so much more calm on the other end,” according to Judge Lynn Toler, star of Divorce Court and author of Making Marriage Work: New Rules for an Old Institution.
Learn how to communicate—and fight fair
Studies show that couples in long terms marriages don’t agree any more than people who get divorced, but it’s how you resolve conflict that’s important. Timing and strategy are key when talking to your spouse about a tough subject, according to Toler. Avoid talking about an issue when it’s raised, and think about what you’re going to say beforehand and then listen intelligently. Don’t assume you know what your spouse is saying; ask questions to clarify and then re-state his position to make sure you understand.
Enrolling in a marriage seminar can also teach you communication skills so that “when they are major differences, you can learn how to be more acknowledging and accepting and you can learn how to negotiate so it’s a win-win situation for both people,” Weiner-Davis said.
If you’re not feeling like the hot woman you were pre-baby, or you’re just too exhausted, you’re not alone. Approximately 20 percent of married women reported having sex 2 or 3 times a week, according to a recent Indiana University survey.
What’s more, Weiner-Davis says many couples have a sex-desire discrepancy, meaning one partner wants it more often than the other. “Typically what happens in the relationship, is the person with the lower sex drive tends to control the tempo and the frequency of sex,” she said. Intimacy on all levels tends to drop out as well, making infidelity and divorce common.
Yet having sex really is one of the easiest-and fun-ways to keep your marriage strong. So plan a date night, pull out the sexy lingerie or take it out of bedroom and get the fires burning again.
Show gratitude for each other
Toler says it’s important to acknowledge and show appreciation for the things your spouse does for you and your family, particularly those you take for granted. The more you say thank you, chances are he’ll reciprocate and your marriage will be a happier place.
Appreciate gender differences
“Women are not defective men and men are not faulty women,” according to Toler, who said not to waste your time thinking about “why can’t he” or “why doesn’t he?” Also, just because you might like to connect by having a conversation, he actually feels connected to you by action, even if it means watching TV together.
Change your expectations
Approximately 10 percent of first marriages end in divorce after just 5 years, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report. “The primary reason they’re calling it quits is they’ve had faulty expectations about the role marriage plays in their lives,” according to Weiner-Davis who said marriages, just like children, go through predictable developmental stages. It’s also important to recognize that your partner can’t satisfy all of your needs. “You have to be happy in your own life to make a marriage work,” Weiner-Davis said.
Log out of Facebook
Friend your old high school flame? Texting your office husband? It might start out innocent enough, but you could be setting the stage for an affair down the line. If you’re not happy with your marriage, make a commitment to work on it together instead of looking for an outside fix.
“Most couples who are having problems don’t ever get help, they go straight to divorce attorneys,” said Weiner-Davis, adding that it’s important to find a marriage counselor who believes in the sanctity of marriage and can give you the skills to get your marriage back on track.
Julie Revelant is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, health, and women's issues and a mom. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.