Clinical psychologist Dr Vanessa von Auer, director of VA Psychology Center, notes that children can change a couple’s relationship dynamics tremendously. For one, you and your spouse’s wants and needs were all that mattered before the kids arrived.
But once they come along, she points out, “The attention shifts very much onto the baby, sleep deprivation and being new to parenthood can be extremely taxing on communication and the relationship as a whole.”
Dr Von Auer adds that the manner in which you interact with your spouse will also change. For instance, questions about your baby’s bowel movements, homework and meals will replace questions about each other’s achievements and interests or day-to-day matters.
“Verbalise your appreciation in the moment, so that each partner feels special and validated — it is one of the easiest ways to reconnect and feel closer to one another.”
All these changes come at the cost of your closeness as a couple. Fortunately, you can keep the relationship flame burning by following these tips:
1) Show affection through physical touch
As you and your spouse get more and more involved in tending to the kids, it’s easy to neglect each other’s needs. You can reassure your spouse of your love and care for them through little acts of affection. These include holding each other’s hands in public, hugging each other daily, a quick squeeze of your spouse’s hands or a kiss on the cheek. Dr von Auer explains that physical touch, no matter how small, can strengthen your marriage as it builds physical bonds.
2) Spend one-on-one time with each other daily
Spend quality one-on-one time with each other and do something daily as a couple. It can be making it a point to cuddle at night and talk about your day after the children are asleep. If you both used to exercise together, then lace up your sports shoes and head out. Make the most of these quiet moments without junior to communicate with each other without worrying about the kids or fiddling with your gadgets.
3) Say how much you appreciate each other
You may be better with the children than your significant other or your spouse may be earning more than you. In cases of disparity, Dr von Auer says it’s important to notice and acknowledge what the other spouse does. If your wife has the ability to remain calm in the face of a toddler tantrum, tell her you appreciate how strong and patient she is as a mother. Likewise, if your husband has the ability to whip up a scrumptious meal for the little ones, appreciate his creativity. Dr von Auer advises, “Verbalise your appreciation in the moment, so that each partner feels special and validated — it is one of the easiest ways to reconnect and feel closer to one another.”
4) Surprise each other
Things can get stale and boring especially when family life dictates that everyone has to follow a routine. So, surprise each other by doing something different every once in a while to keep your relationship fresh and interesting. For instance, surprise your wife by arranging a floral bouquet delivery to her office or lovingly preparing a date-night dinner for two.
5) Practise active listening
Lim says that practising active listening will make your spouse feel that you are concerned about them and are trying to understand their feelings. When they feel valued, they will feel loved. Dr von Auer explains that active listening means being an engaged, proactive listener instead of misinterpreting the other party’s message or reacting prematurely. Try these steps:
* Let the speaker speak. Do not interrupt, judge or react emotionally.
* Focus on the speaker’s needs and feelings.
* Use sentence fillers — like saying yes, uh-huh, mm-hmm — to demonstrate that you are listening and empathise with them by saying: “That must have been really tough”.
* Ask questions if you are not quite sure where your spouse is coming from.
* Paraphrase and summarise when the speaker is done talking to demonstrate that you understood the main message and understand your spouse’s point of view.
6) Take an interest in each other’s lives
Too often, after you and your spouse gets married and have children, you both start to think that you know each other well but that may not be the case. Lim states, “The reality is that the both of you are constantly changing, and if you don’t actively get to know each other —your knowledge about your spouse may be out of sync with whom they really are.”
So, it is really important to have heart-to-heart chats. You can start by asking generic questions about your spouse’s day before progressing on to more personal and emotional ones, Dr von Auer advises. “It takes some creativity to continue communicating love for one another but once you get into the habit of this, it becomes ingrained in your couple-hood.”
Try these questions:
* What one achievement of yours were you proud of today?
* What would make you excited for the weekend?
* How do you feel about growing old?
* What kind of family do you think we’ll be like in the future?
“The reality is that the both of you are constantly changing, and if you don’t actively get to know each other —your knowledge about your spouse may be out of sync with whom they really are.”
7) Take care of yourself
One thing that’ll go on the backburner when you are busy with your kids is taking time for yourself. Dr von Auer notes, “If you do not love yourself, it is difficult to love others unconditionally and people who do not love themselves often have trouble accepting others flaws or shortcomings.” So, be sure to set aside time to do activities that will make you happy or relieves your stress about being a parent and spouse.
8) Have fun with friends
Support from your spouse or loved ones aside, it is also equally important to maintain your friendships. Dr von Auer explains that each partner should get time to hang out with their friends at least once a week. “It is important to discuss such an arrangement openly and to stick to the schedule to avoid resentment and dissatisfaction.”
9) Lighten up about your parenting mistakes
As parents, you’ll make mistakes because you won’t have all the answers. Lightening up over these low moments can make life a lot more bearable for you both, instead of sowing discord and frustration. Dr von Auer adds that laughing at the difficult moments together can be a lovely reminder that you’re both in this together.
10) Accept your partner for whom they are
Quite likely, you’ll notice that some things your wife or your husband does just drives you berserk and you’ll nag them hoping they will change their ways. Constantly harping on the ways in which your partner isn’t good enough only lowers their self-esteem and reveals how inadequate he or she is, in your eyes. Having mutual respect and loving your partner for whom he or she is is the key to a loving and lasting marriage.
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