Q. How can my husband and I have a good relationship while raising young children? I’m a stay-at-home mom of two who’s too tired from a full day of caregiving to stay awake for a date night. And it’s expensive for us to go out. Is the classic date night the only answer?

A. You’re smart to realize that a good relationship with your husband is very important. A study at UC Berkeley tracked parents from pregnancy to kindergarten and found that after having a child, many couples’ marital satisfaction declined. This decline negatively affected the kids emotionally and academically. But some marriages stayed strong and happy, and the children benefited.

So how can you build a strong partnership? David Code, author of “To Raise Happy Kids Put Your Marriage First,” says don’t make your kids the center of your life, but attend to your partner first sometimes. John Gottman, author of “And Baby Makes Three,” says the secret involves three A’s: affection, appreciation and admiration.

Here are my suggestions for you:

  1. Touch more. We humans need to touch and be touched.
  2. Act like a winning team. Remind each other that you are on the same team.
  3. Share the burdens. Early arguments are usually about division of labor, so reach agreement on who does what and show appreciation when work is done.
  4. Take time out and rest when the kids nap. Agree as a couple that the break is needed.
  5. Don’t let emotions rule your life or keep you from talking. Communicate in person and in a communication notebook, if that works for you.
  6. Don’t compare your spouse to someone else’s spouse or an old love.
  7. Find ways to have a good laugh together.
  8. Find a way for each of you to have some time alone even if it’s short.
  9. Have fun together. Take a walk or have a picnic. Just make a change in the routine.
  10. Make reunions terrific so no matter how bad the day was, it’s okay now.
  11. Avoid hurting your spouse’s feelings. Men can be as sensitive (or more so) to criticism than women.
  12. Develop a hobby together.

All these suggestions could be a lot to think about when you’re tired from keeping two small children safe and cared for. I’m a fan of hiring a mother’s helper for a couple of hours, taking advantage of Mother’s Day Out, joining play groups, taking a parenting class or joining a gym—any activity that provides free or low cost childcare and gives you a break. Taking care of yourself emotionally and physically is important to your relationship.

Kids can sense a lack of closeness of their parents and do better when they grow up in an environment where parents show they love each other. When I was growing up, I saw my father kiss my mother every time he left the house, even if it was only for 30 minutes. There is something about having parents who love each other that makes a child feel safe and secure.

Having a good relationship that lasts through the years is more about how you treat each other day in and day out. It’s not all about date nights or nice gifts— although the occasional surprise might feel good too.

Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.

Got a question for Betty Richardson? Email us here and you just might see the answer in an upcoming issue!

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