(Here’s the second very good question Parenting NH magazine asked me recently):
What are some practical tips and ways for parents to prioritize their relationship as spouses/partners?
Most people know about the importance of setting aside quality time together through things like “date night.”
Having a planned, ritualized time alone with your partner amplifies your “couple-ness” through shared experiences, reminding you about your reasons for choosing and staying with each other. I encourage couples to ramp it up a notch by taking turns with the planning, each putting energy into the “work” of connection.
Sometimes surprise experiences can expand a sense of fun, and even ramp up friendly competition. Anticipating and later reminiscing about these events can actually build happy neural pathways in your brains!
Novelty and a shared sense of discovery by doing new things together also generates excitement and joy, which are important antidotes to the doldrums which often plague long term relationships.
Equally as important, build mini “pockets of connection” into your everyday life as a couple. Don’t overload date nights with too much expectation, especially if you can’t manage to have them regularly and frequently. Instead, look for small, subtle moments of sharing by being intentional about them:
– If you’re getting dinner ready, create a shared experience with some conversation and a glass of wine while you prepare the meal.
– If the kids are in bed sit on the deck or the porch and watch the stars come out together. Talk about your dreams and passions, not just who aced it at your kid’s soccer game.
– If you’re watching a TV program sit next to each other and use the commercial breaks to have a snack and share your thoughts about the program.
– “Kill two birds with one stone” and have some lively conversation while you walk your dog.
However brief your time together may be, protect it from outside intrusion. Get more comfortable saying “No, thank you” to invitations that might cut in on the two of you too often. Set boundaries and prioritize your time together, even if it’s not a Hallmark moment.
Whatever you do together, be intentional about it, be present, and put down your cellphones! Texts, Facebook, and Instagram can wait, unless they’re shared activities you both enjoy. Here again, remember that one way or the other, your kids are watching, and you’re giving them a template for either a loving, respectful partnership, or
an empty one.
I was recently contacted by Parenting New Hampshire Magazine for my thoughts about three big questions they have about spouses with children. I thought they were really good questions parents should be reflecting about, so I sent the magazine some of my ideas about the subject. I don’t know if my “answers” will be used in the article, but I thought I’d share them with you, my readers.
Here’s the first question:
Why is it important for spouses/partners in their own relationship to “not always be about the kids”?
Most importantly, you as a couple came first, and unless you “fill your tanks” properly you won’t have
much of value to give to your children. Nourishing your partnership creates positive energy and “zest”
that then can radiate out into more constructive and loving interactions not only with each other, but also
with your children, especially when they are presenting aggravating or challenging attitudes and behaviors.
Also, by giving your marriage proper care and attention you will be providing not only a positive model
for self nurture and self valuing, but also an important frame for connective, collaborative partnership. Don’t be
fooled by what looks like self absorption in your kids – as busy as they may seem with their own lives,
they’re always watching you and unconsciously imitating your attitudes and behaviors!
One final thought about this question: In about 18 or so years your children will hopefully be “launched” and
out on their own. What of value as a couple will you have to share if you’ve created a totally “kid-centric”
life together? If you haven’t nourished your relationship sufficiently you will be less adept at communication,
managing conflict, taking turns, feeling close, and just plain having fun together!
I recently returned from a whirlwind vacation in Slovenia and Croatia, where my husband Thom and I not only had a terrific adventure, but also where the experience of living in connection was palpable.
In the above picture I was having one of our daily Cappuccino’s at a riverfront cafe in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. Not only are their coffees terrific there, but most special was being immersed in a culture which seems to embrace connection. People there routinely sit outside together, young and old, regardless of the weather, enjoying coffees, wine, sweets, meals and good old conversation all day and night! We hardly saw anyone on their cellphones, ignoring the humans in their midst the way we routinely do in the USA. We were struck by how friendly and happy the people there seemed, and not just the tourists who were enjoying a vacation. We returned to the States convinced in a new way that the experience of daily human connection and personal happiness are intertwined.
So, when you’re not on vacation in a friendly spot what can you do in your daily life to promote connection?
However you do it, be intentional and creative about maximizing the experience of connection in your life. You’ll be happier, for sure.
PS. If you need help with this issue feel free to contact me at my Portsmouth, NH office at 603-431-7131 for an appointment.
- Be intentional about engagement when you’re with other people. Maintain eye contact, listen, share, and most importantly, don’t confuse cellphone use with human socialization unless you’re sharing photos or anecdotes, and it’s not a solo, isolating activity.
- Take time each day to find people and places where you can have some meaningful conversation – whether it’s at the cooler, at lunch on a walk, or after work at a restaurant. If you’re a stay- at- home Mom join a mother’s group or a gym where you can find connection.
- Create small pockets of connection with your partner if you lack big expanses of time. Get away from an”all or nothing” frame. Share a glass of wine while cooking dinner, sit together and talk about the TV program you’re watching, share news about your day over dinner or walking the dog together. Plan your weekend and create something to look forward to.
- Use technology to let the people you care about know you’re thinking about them, then make a date. Don’t use technology as a substitute for the real thing, creating pseudo intimacy. Reach out and do stuff with the people you value.
- When you’ve experienced conflict in a relationship, (as you inevitably will in most normal relationships), don’t let it stew – instead, address it in whatever way the relationship will sustain, so it doesn’t become a barrier to connection. (The exception to this would be relationships which feel abusive, then boundaries are your best resource).
- When you’re alone find moments of connection with strangers who feel safe to you – talk with the supermarket clerk, start a conversation with the person next to you at a bar or restaurant, compare dog stories with other dog walkers. Engage!
When it comes to how we live our lives, ask any dog, especially Tucker above, and they’ll show you that we’ve got our priorities all wrong – sideways, so to speak.
Tucker is my morning pal, the next door neighbor’s dog, and my big, handsome blonde Teacher of All Things, Big and Small. We run around and walk the trails behind my house every morning, Tucker attached like cement to his green ball. When I’m tired or cranky he reminds me that “it’s all about The Ball, get over it!” When it’s buggy or muggy or rainy like today, we both get bitten and soggy, but the Ball Game has to go on! A little rainfall won’t kill anyone. So what if there are some inconveniences?
Tucker has taught me not to make such a big deal of piles of snow, the early hour after a late night, muddy boots and trampled garden beds. He reminds me of the importance of promises, some predictability, and mostly the importance of being present in connection and having FUN in life. He helps me see that Quickbooks and emails can wait, calls can be returned later, but for a guy with only about 5 more years to live, the time is NOW for The Ball!
If you don’t have a Tucker in your life like I do, trust me that you’ll live longer and happier if you listen to and practice his “words” of wisdom: It’s all about The Ball!
If you’re on your own and need help getting your priorities straight, feel free to contact me – I’d be glad to help!
Look at this face!
This is Tucker, my morning cup of joy. Every day at 9 AM he arrives at my breezeway door, sent by my next door neighbor, ball in mouth, ready for action. (Some days I wonder why I’m voluntarily getting out of a warm bed an hour early and heading into the “arctic” outdoors with this rambunctious canine)!
We traipse around our land playing Fetch or Tug of War for awhile, then we head onto the adjoining trails leading to either the bog or the nature path which goes through miles of farmland and woods. Tucker runs ahead, then waits at every turn for me to show up and cheer him on. When he’s naughty he drops the ball and eats deer droppings or grabs onto giant five foot logs which he swings around, intending to haul back home. Once in awhile he obeys when I tell him to drop either the poop or the log. I’m persistent, so he’s minding me more often lately. It’s a work in progress…
For about four months here in Maine, any doubt I may have felt earlier in the morning about the effort to get up and out disappears completely once we’re immersed in this winter wonderland. After the walk I take Tucker downstairs into my gym where he works at the peanut butter inside his Kong while I’m working out. When he’s done he thanks me profusely with sloppy kisses, and I remind him how much I adore him. I then take him home next door, and return to the rest of my day feeling loved, useful, grateful, and filled with joy.
This is my happy place, communing with nature and a big, sweet, loving creature who enjoys the experience as much as I do. It’s a morning ritual which sets the tone for good energy and connection with clients, family and friends. I start each day “in the moment” with intention and gratitude.
So, if you have a dog and can’t roam the woods like I do in the morning, you can still make their walk a ritual of immersion in nature and love by just being present. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one as I do, so you can also borrow their capacity for spontaneity and pleasure. Chances are, your friend or neighbor who loans him to you will appreciate the help, and you and the dog will benefit immensely from your special time together. Any affectionate touch will ramp up the happy bonding hormone Oxytocin in both of you. You’ll begin the day with great self care and a full heart, and you’ll be readier for whatever comes your way!
*PS. If you need help with the whole issue of self care and practices which promote positivity and joy, feel free to call me at 603-431-7131 to set up an appointment. I’d be glad to help!