1. Always say hello and good-bye.
The hellos and good-byes are often the first things to fall away once couples have kids, Los Angeles–based licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., tells BuzzFeed Life. But you can fix that by making a conscious “front-door policy.”
“Make sure you at least lock eyes with your partner when they come through the front door,” Durvasula says. It takes less than two seconds to kiss, hug, or touch hands and exchange your own personal greeting, but, she says, “it keeps the connection alive.”
2. Take an adult time-out before lights-out.
After the kids are asleep and you’re about to hit the sack, take 10 minutes before turning out the lights to lie together in bed and talk. No devices, and no talking about to-do lists, bills, or babies. Just have a conversation about the crazy story you read online or the weird dream you had the night before.
“People love feeling like they’re special and a priority in their partner’s life,” New York–based marriage and couples therapist Irina Fierstein, LCSW, tells BuzzFeed Life. Make this a time to make each other feel like the priority.
3. If you need to fight or have a serious conversation, do it IRL.
Having an argument over email or, worse, text message is definitely not a smart move. “You can’t read tone, intention, or feeling in a text,” Southern California–based clinician, author and couples therapist Stan Tatkin, Psy.D., tells BuzzFeed Life. “Even emoticons can be misread as hostile.”
You and your partner need to be face-to-face when you talk about heavy matters, he says. This way you can pick up telltale expressions and emotional cues that are important to what someone means.
4. Remember that being intimate doesn’t always mean having sex.
So many parents say that they don’t have time for sex, especially when sleep sounds like the best thing since Beyoncé tickets. But not everything has to be a two-hour sex-fest, says Durvasula.
“Just keep touch alive in your relationship. It’s an incredibly important connection variable for human beings,” she says. Quick kisses in the kitchen, a buttgrab in the hallway, or a snuggle into your honey’s neck says I’m here. I’m with you.
5. Be specific about what you need.
“Parents, particularly mothers, are bad about asking for what they need because they think they’re rejecting their spouse or letting their kids down,” says Durvasula. But even if you’re asking for “me” time or distance initially, communicating that clearly can pay off in closeness in the end.
You can say: “When the kids go to bed, I need 15 minutes alone on the couch with my iPad.” Or, “When I come home from work, I need 20 minutes to finish up emails, change my clothes and my frame of mind into fully present mom or dad mode.”
6. Stop saying everything is fine when it isn’t.
Gritting your teeth and slamming the kitchen cabinets doesn’t resolve a thing, Brown says. If you’re tired or hurt or upset, say that instead of lying and telling your partner that everything’s fine when it’s clearly not. “Announce your feelings instead of acting them out,” she says.
7. Always speak for yourself, rather than using phrases that sound accusatory.
Be mindful of how you speak to your partner, especially during disagreements. Using words like “‘you always,” “you never” and “you don’t,” is heading down a negative path, San Francisco–based licensed marriage therapist Margot Brown tells BuzzFeed Life.
“Try approaching arguments from a more positive angle,” she says. Start off with “I” statements like, I think, I need, I feel. It sounds less accusatory and confrontational, and you’ll more likely be heard.
8. Always say goodnight to each other.
No matter what happened on any given day, always say goodnight to each other, Los Angeles–based psychiatrist and author Dr. Mark Goulston tells BuzzFeed Life. “This tells your partner that, regardless of how upset you are with him or her, what you two have together is bigger than any single upsetting incident.”
9. Snuggle up at night (or start out that way).
Make an effort to fall asleep cozied up whenever possible, Durvasula says. “Spoon, hold hands, snuggle — just touching each other for a little bit — when you turn in at night is a good thing to carry into the resetting that is sleep,” she says.
10. Support each other’s need for chill time away from the kids.
It’s easy to let your own health and wellness slide when parent life goes into overdrive. “Support each other in maintaining a good self-care routine by encouraging each other to work out or get monthly massages,” Arizona–based author, speaker, business coach, and mom Pamela Slim tells BuzzFeed Life.
If mama likes to have a bubble bath Sunday nights before Game of Thrones, the other parent can be the star, making sure this happens by taking charge of the kids’ bedtime routine that night.
11. Find moments when you can each do your own thing — together.
Maybe one person is watching TV while the other scrolls through Instagram, or one is reading while the other is just lying there — with head on lap — daydreaming. Connecting can also be about sitting next to each other while focused on separate things, Durvasula says.
12. Go for the tiny gesture.
If she looks beautiful in the light of the kitchen, say it. See those crappy daisies by the side of the road? Pick them. His favorite chocolate bar at the Target checkout? Buy it.
“The littlest thing can turn the ship of your day and your relationship,” Durvasula says. You may think your person doesn’t notice, but they definitely will.
13. Don’t forget to say “I love you” when you’re texting or talking on the phone.
Did you get the the milk? Remember to drop off the thing. Soccer practice ends early today.
Too often phone calls and texts between partners can become procedural, Durvasula says. “It’s so easy to punctuate those calls with an ‘I love you.’ Not in a mechanical way, but instead a mindful moment to remind you that you’re talking your person and not your personal assistant.”
14. Arrange parents-only getaways.
Take regular trips without the kids, says Fierstein. Obviously, we’re not talking two weeks in Madrid. But you can still enlist a babysitter and make time for an overnight stay at a nearby bed-and-breakfast or a half-day away for lunch and a movie. “Time alone has to be seen as a priority,” she says.
15. Give each other a power thank-you.
Once month or so, try to give each other an (honest) “power thank-you,” Goulston says. It’s a three-part gracias: First, say thanks for something specific and observable. Then acknowledge the effort it took your boo to do that thing. And lastly, tell them what it personally means to you.
16. Leave the past behind and operate in the now.
Constant throwbacks to how your spouse used to behave or react — even if it’s intended as playful teasing — essentially disqualifies any efforts they’ve made to change and do better. “We can and do grow as individuals, as parents, and as a couple,” Slim says. Celebrate that growth and leave the past behind you.
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