Raising kids is difficult. Dealing with fluctuating hormone levels, the sleepless nights and adapting to a new lifestyle is challenging after giving birth. Then, as parents adapt to their new lifestyle, they are faced with the terrible two’s and threes. Parents are constantly faced with challenges when raising kids and it’s no surprise that it can take a toll on a marriage. I’m conscious about this. Maintaining a healthy marriage requires work, dedication and much more than a few “date nights” per year. For this reason, I reached out to Dr. Stephanie Steele, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Sacramento, CA to provide some insight on how parents who are raising small kids can maintain a healthy marriage.
How would you define a healthy marriage or relationship?
A healthy marriage or relationship is a consensual relationship that includes honesty, open communication, security, love, and leaves both people feeling as if (overall) their needs are being met. In our society today, this looks a myriad of ways. Every distinct personality is going to want something different in a partner. We are influenced both by our
families of origin, or the families we grew up in, as well as our individual hopes and dreams. One cannot expect another to fulfill all of our needs or complete us as individuals, but in a healthy relationship, one’s expectations are both verbalized and met.
What do most couples struggle with when raising small kids?
There are two things I see couples struggling with the most when raising small kids. The first is connection. I’m not excluded from this camp; my husband and I are guilty of this, too! If you don’t live around family (or even if you do), it’s difficult to have someone else watch your child or children while you and your partner go out on a date night. Throw in breastfeeding, nap or nighttime rituals, and any other worry and it becomes nearly impossible. BUT… it is important. Even if you don’t officially get a sitter, it’s vital to capitalize on the moments where you are without the
babies. If the kids are down for a nap or in the morning or evening, use that time to truly connect. No cell phones, no watching TV, real conversation and connection.
The second struggle that is incredibly common is parenting differences. It is a certifiably difficult feat for two unique individuals that grew up in different households to parent the same decades down the road. Parents are going to disagree, especially in the beginning with small children. It is vital that these parenting ideas or disagreements are not discussed in front of the kids. Take the time to understand the other’s point of view rather than trying to strong-arm them into committing to your position. Communication around parenting differences and celebration of similarities will take you far! Talk about it often and check in even if you don’t think there is anything to discuss regarding parenting strategies. Giving each other a pat on the back is encouraging and supports open communication for future disagreements.
Tips or advice on how parents can maintain a healthy marriage or relationship?
First, I cannot stress enough how important premarital counseling is. Premarital counseling is typically short and fun. Many various topics are discussed such as life goals/dreams, values, parenting, sex, money, conflict resolution, divorce, and beliefs about what holds strong marriages together. Many of these conversations are not had without the intervention of premarital counseling. But, let’s say you’re part of the 70% who never attended premarital counseling, the most important piece of advice I can offer to maintain a healthy marriage or relationship is to communicate often about how things are going for both people. Beyond a simple “how was your day,” check in with your partner on a deeper level. Ask questions such as:
- How do I think I am doing as a mother/father?
- How am I doing as a spouse?
- How do you think we are doing as a family in the path to achieving our goals?
- Have our goals for our lives changed?
- Are you happy?
- If there is one way to enhance your life, what would it be?
Make sure you intently listen to these answers, and you are well on your way to maintaining a healthy marriage or relationship.
For couples who are currently struggling, what options do they have to improve their marriage?
There are many options to improve one’s marriage. I will list four things you could do today, in the order from the least investment to the most investment.
1. This first one might surprise you! The first place to look when you are unhappy with your marriage is YOURSELF. Figure out what is at the core of what is bothering you. Is this a marital issue or an individual issue? Start with creating your own happiness, and move on to the marriage if you feel that is really where the problem lies.
2. Read a self-help book together. Commit to reading one chapter each night and spend ample time talking about it with one another. Like anything, you get out of marriage what you put into it. There is no better investment to make than in your marriage. If you’re searching for a good book, I highly recommend all of Dr. John Gottman’s books on relationships. They are evidence-based on decades of scientific research, extremely relatable, and the chapters tend to be shorter. My favorite three for couples are “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail and How to Make Yours Last,” and finally “The Relationship Cure.” You’ll be blown away and empowered to start changing your relationship right away. He has also written books and developed a therapeutic program about the transition from couplehood to parenthood. This book is calling “And Baby Makes Three” and his wife co-wrote it with him.
3. Humble yourselves and meet with a strong couple that you respect. Tell them you are struggling with your marriage and look to them for mentorship. This could absolutely be a couple in your family; it just has to be a couple you trust. Letting someone else know your struggle together provides accountability. Having another respected couple cheer you on and ask for updates is so important during difficult times. Absolutely do not talk to someone individually without your partner. Statistics have proven over and over again that confiding in someone else about your marriage problems without input from your spouse leads to divorce.
4. I am a marriage therapist, so I don’t think it’s ever too early for therapeutic intervention. The only reason this is #4 on the list is because it does take time and money (though hopefully it is covered by your insurance!) Marital therapy is proven to be effective and I believe there is no better investment. One of the biggest factors in ensuring successful therapeutic treatment is the right therapist. www.psychologytoday.com is a wonderful site where you can find your therapist based on a variety of factors such as location, educational background, what kind of insurance
they accept, gender, treatment style and it allows you to read their biography. Word of mouth is another fantastic way to find an effective therapist.
Never give up! Your marriage is worth it. As my mother-in-law always says, marriage is not 50/50, it is 100/100. Each partner needs to give their all in order to maintain a happy and healthy marriage.
Dr. Stephanie Steele is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Sacramento, CA. She is married to her husband Tyler. They are parents to their 21 month-old daughter and a baby on the way! You can follow her on Twitter.Follow us on social media: