Keeping the Spark Alive

It’s 7:46 and my husband is graciously putting the boys to bed tonight. It’s been a long day and I’m tired. Really tired. I know when he comes down here in a few minutes, I should perk up a little. Maybe even sit up and invite him to sit next to me. I really should.

Chances are if you’re married with child(ren), you can relate. I love my husband dearly, but marriage is hard work, especially with little ones who demand much of our attention. As a couple’s therapist, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy understanding what accounts for a thriving marriage, and so much of it boils down to being intentional with our time and continuing to invest in our marriage. If you do the work in your marriage, you will be able to be connected in the (little) time you share together.

Here are a few essential features of a connected marriage.

1. Maintaining Intimacy

Intimacy does not constitute for sex alone (although sex is a fabulous part of this!). I’m talking about connection; spending time together, staying in tune to what’s happening in your partner’s life, understanding what make him or her tick, investing in yourselves as a couple. Here’s a challenge – go out on a date and talk about everything except for kids, money, or work. Gulp. It might not be easy at first but it’s a great way to tune into what’s going on in your partner’s life. And as for the sex part, chances are once you focus on connection and conversation, sex will be a happy result.

2. Fighting Fairly

One thing I like to ask my clients is, “are your fights productive?”. Some clients are surprised by this question, assuming that all fights are bad. In fact, “fighting” can be a necessary part of marriage. When two people live together and are responsible for maintaing a household and keeping children alive, arguments will ensue. The question is, do your fights produce change? There are a number of constraints that get in the way of productive conflict. Researcher John Gottman cites criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling as the four most destructive behaviors in conflict. Check out more of Gottman’s research in his book, The Seven Principals of Making Marriage Work.

3. Doing Your Part

Couples can spend hour upon hour bickering about the division of household labor or who-does-what tit-for-tat. It seems that a big part of the solution lies in showing appreciation for the things our spouse does do, as opposed to riding them for what isn’t done. Genuine appreciate goes a long way. So don’t be shy about showing your partner how much you appreciate him picking up dinner, or staying home with the kids, or getting the car washed. Some couples work best with “assigned jobs”, as in I cook, you clean, or I take the trash out, you put the kids to bed. You get the drift. Find what works for you and your partner, stick you your part, and thank each other honestly.

4. Presenting a United Front

It's necessary to trust that our partner has our back in difficult times. This fosters an essential part of a healthy marriage – feeling safe.  Having a united front shows our kids that we are in this together and mom and dad are on the same team. Not only does it create a feeling of safety in within the marriage, but that for the kids, too.  This doesn’t mean things always have to appear perfect in front of the children, but mutual trust is key.

5. Maintaining a Sense of Humor

It feels good to laugh, and it feels even better to laugh with your spouse. And let’s be honest, sometimes, life is funny. It’s essential to be aware of the humor in your day and attempt to see humor in your situation. Occasionally, my husband will remind me that we actually created these wild little boys that tear our house apart.  This conversation generally results in both of us smiling in the midst of chaos. So keep an eye out for humor – chances are, if you’re looking for it, you’ll find it.

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Amanda is a contributor at Liberating Working Moms, where this post was originally published.