Relationships

A Bridge Back to Love: How Busy Parents Can Help Their Intimacy Thrive

Renewing love and connection with your partner

Posted Apr 14, 2011

Any given saturday we might see an amazing couple on the sidelines at soccer, lacrosse or baseball games with two children each on adjacent fields. One parent watches one game and the other parent coaches another game.

They look happy maybe attractive as well and they never miss a game or event. They carry lunches, sweaters, sunscreen, water bottles, maybe a snack or drinks for the team and try to stay alert for the big moment when their child does something memorable.

At the same time they visit with other parents, make and receive phone calls and write the dreaded "To Do list" to be accomplished with what time is left of the weekend. When both parents work, everything must be done on non-work days. Observers wonder: How do they do it all and seem to be happy with it?

In contrast, some of us may appear frazzled with the pace and worry that we can't keep up and our children will not succeed. We believe that the perfect looking people set the standard and we just don't measure up.

The fact is that most of us are doing the best we can, some do too much, some not enough. But both are missing two very important items on their "To Do" lists:

1. Take care of yourself
2. Take care of your relationships

We can so easily lose sight of dangers ahead for our relationships and the potential problems in the future for children who may not have witnessed a model for a healthy intimate connection.

It seems in our efforts to improve upon the methods our parents used to raise responsible children we have gone a bit too far and are now trying to be super parents at the expense of our sanity, self care and our need to maintain and nurture our relationship with a spouse or intimate partner.

As a couples therapist I have met with a variety of couples who exemplify the issue. Those early in their partnership who are tired and angry about household chores, finances, and the age old arguments about lack of sex vs lack of emotional intimacy and the equally common one "Who does more?"

Those who are committed to career and children, believing that their attention to each other can be put on the back burner until the kids are grown. They become great parents and are incredulous when one has an affair.

And the almost empty nesters where one begins to grieve the loss of children more than anticipated - in part because she cannot imagine life without the only connection she had with her partner and may begin to fear this as well.

The saddest example is the couple who spent years living parallel lives, each with their own child-related and/or career activities discovering in there sixties and seventies that they could not bear to be in the same room with each other, holding on to adult children and grandchildren to avoid the loneliness and anger.

Prevention is obviously the best approach however in my experience as long as there is still a degree of friendship, fondness and respect remaining it is possible to create or renew connection, but better sooner than later. Here are some tips for reducing stress and deepening you connection.

1. Commit to striving for a healthy relationship no matter what difficulties may arise. Eliminate the exits and obstacles to intimacy. One possibility would be reducing television and computer time. Make a pact that quitting on your relationship is not an option.

2. Be respectful even when you're not feeling respected. Disrespect does long term harm to any relationship. There is no excuse for bad behavior. Monitor yourself for sarcasm, eye rolling and hurtful criticism.

3. Take care of yourself. You cannot give what you don't have. Develop a small but powerful support system of friends and family. Find fun, passion and inspiration in something outside that you care about. Don't expect your partner alone can be that for you. If you feel angry at your partner, it might be a sign that you are not giving yourself what you need.

4. Make regular emotional deposits to each other. Try to validate, encourage, stroke and appreciate your partner at a rate of 5 positives to every negative comment or request. Simple things are often the best. Clear your mind for a few minutes each day and listen. Say hello and goodbye while making eye contact. Tell each other when you notice something you like or appreciate. Smile.

5. Connect daily and create special opportunities for deeper connection such as date night, vacations or private time to be alone together. Make a private spot in you home with great atmosphere to sit and talk. Keep you bedroom as a sacred space without kids or clutter.

6. Accept each other AS IS and overlook weaknesses that really don't matter. During stressful times relationships may be strained and critical. Shift your focus away from flaws and toward the qualities you like and appreciate in each other. Love is a choice and it will return whenever you consciously look for the good things.

7. Maintain healthy boundaries to protect your relationship from common invaders such as jobs, too much activity, intrusive family or friends, telephone, computer, television etc.

8. Plan for intimacy. Don't wait for it to just happen. Both emotional and sexual intimacy requires planning and effort. Take responsibility for creating the environment as well as the mental and emotional state that will enhance your desire for each other. Healthy relationships will have a satisfying balance of emotional and sexual connection.

9. Conserve energy. Monitor your energy the way you do money. There is a limited supply and you must decide how to spend it. Without boundaries energy is wasted on less important things and people who are not a priority. If you value a loving relationship you must save energy for yourself and your partner each day.

10. Live your truth. Have a mission statement for your life together and re-evaluate it yearly. Ask yourselves "Is this the life we want to be living?" If it isn't, make a plan for gradual change in any area that needs it. Sometimes it may require saying no to an extra activity children want to particpate in if it will add stress to the family.

11. Seek professional help to sort out old patterns and make lasting changes.

For more information about Ann Smith, Breakthrough at Caron or to register for our upcoming Relationship Conference on April 22nd & April 23rd in Baltimore, MD - Click Here.