How to Keep the Relationship Alive While Parenting

How to Keep the Relationship Alive While Parenting

17 May 2022 • Words by Karla Pretorius 3 mins

I once suggested weekly date nights as a way to keep the relationship alive during a couple’s counseling session. Both partners looked at me with disbelief. Years later, having my partner’s children in and out of the house between two homes, I get it. When you’re too exhausted even to wash your hair, how do you keep the romance alive?

Seven simple (yes, simple!) strategies to keep the relationship alive while parenting:

Schedule it

I know scheduling doesn’t seem overly romantic, but we will forget if we don’t add it to our diary. Perhaps on a Friday, you jot down a reminder to write a sweet or funny note and leave it somewhere for your partner to find.

Question it

Aron et al. (1997) concluded that for an interpersonal relationship to evolve, self-disclosure on the part of both individuals was required. The New York Times used this study to create a questionnaire for couples who want to fall in love, or make their love “even stronger.” You can click here to do this with your partner. You might be surprised to find how much there is to learn about each other.

Less TV, more connecting

There is not much I enjoy more when I switch off from work than watching a series I enjoy and cuddling with my partner. Although this type of relaxation is needed at times, we should caution ourselves against doing this every single night. Some nights, it might be better for us and our relationship to sit quietly with a glass of wine or cup of tea and connect for an hour. If you are too tired to have in-depth conversations, you can always just cuddle and relax without the series distracting both of you.

Create a “safe word”

It can be very helpful for you and your partner to agree on a “safe word” to use when either of you needs a break. For example, if the safe word is used during a disagreement, it doesn’t mean that you will leave it unresolved—it just means you need a moment. If you use the safe word at a family lunch, it might mean that you need to get going. Being on the same team in that situation could make all the difference for a quieter night. This strategy has helped me feel calmer and more connected to my partner.

Label your emotions

If we start a discussion with what might be perceived as an accusation, it could lead to defensiveness and possibly a “counterattack,” which is not conducive to open communication and a peaceful settlement. Instead, try labeling your feelings by starting sentences with “I felt”—for example, “I felt (emotion) when you (situation)”. This approach provides your partner with a better understanding of how you are feeling, and rather than their feeling attacked it can help lead to a feeling of mutual empathy.

The power of a light touch

When we feel exhausted, which is often the case when raising children, it can be difficult to find the energy to understand another person’s perspective. At these times, a simple touch from your partner—holding your hand or giving you a hug—might give you the understanding you need. I strongly believe in modeling behaviors and open communication. If you are feeling the need for some form of touch, communicate this to your partner. Some people don’t like to be touched when they’re feeling overwhelmed but prefer some time by themselves. Help your partner understand what you need in these moments, and ask them to do the same for you.

Keep memories alive

I used to love scrapbooking. These days we have social media that keeps track of our travels and adventures. But it might be a good idea to have a memories book or album, where you and your partner can go “old school”—print out photos of special moments and refer back to them when you are feeling a little disconnected. When you’re tired it’s easy to forget about the more minor joys in life you’ve shared, like the quiet cup of coffee looking at the sunrise while the children slept in. Take quick snaps of these moments, so you can savor the memories later.

These gestures and strategies can help you feel better understood and more connected. This, in turn, can lead to an even stronger bond. Love evolves and develops. The type of love we feel for a partner at the beginning of a relationship is different from what we feel later in life with children. A book that I love reading when I feel disconnected is The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. I will leave you with a quote from the book:

“And stand together yet not too near together 
For the pillars of the temple stand apart, 
And the oak tree and the cypress grow 
Not in each other’s shadow.”

Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363–377. doi:10.1177/0146167297234003

Karla Pretorius

A registered counselor with a MA in Psychology. Co-founder: AIMS Global & Leadership at: Augmental