If you are married or partnered with children, answer this: when was the last time you went out on a date with your partner, without your kids? If you have to think about it for more than fifteen seconds, you may just have identified one of your biggest problems as a couple.
When two people make a life together and include having children, they take on innumerable responsibilities. In our commendable efforts to be good, loving, responsible parents, we often forget to plan ahead – to the time when those kids will grow up, start their own lives, and fly the coop. I’ve noticed that many people whose partnerships are hitting the rocks are just at the point of approaching or having to adjust to an empty nest. Again and again, I hear that their life was all about the kids. With the kids gone, they don’t know who they are as people, or as a couple.
The big joke you always hear about married couples and life partners is that their wedding rings have cut off all sensation to their genitals (rim shot sound effect, please). But let’s be honest: happy unions aren’t just about having more sex. You can’t rely on sex alone to create the sense of being recognized, seen, heard, acknowledged and appreciated. Those are the things aside from sex that most partners crave, whether they admit to it or not. What does create the sense of being deeply known and appreciated is the time that a couple puts aside for each other, through the years, to be alone together, to open up to each other, to depend on each other and trust each other.
That is why it is so important to stop making excuses for not hiring a sitter, or having appropriate friends or relatives take the kids for a night or two on a regular basis. Using children as an excuse to avoid deeper connection with a partner is an easy trap to fall into, and a hard one to get out of. If you haven’t been dating your partner; if dating your partner feels like cheating on your kids; if you’re avoiding acknowledging pent-up frustrations or resentments; if you’re having arguments or important discussions on the fly, by e-mail, or when you’re half asleep; if you’re not finding the time to speak and show your love and appreciation because you’re assuming that it’s understood – don’t be surprised that you feel disconnected.
The best way to draw closer and stay closer to your partner is to regularly take time for just the two of you, out of the house, without the kids – at least once a month, but preferably more. You don’t have to dress up, you don’t have to put any pressure on yourselves. Yes, now and then, plan something wildly romantic and special. But for your regular, recurring dates, keep it simple. Don’t always make it a movie or a show, where you barely get to talk. Just go someplace casual where you can hear each other. Maybe you’ll have an argument that you needed to have to clear the air; maybe you’ll be quiet because you’re just calming down and relaxing; maybe you’ll stop worrying about the kids for a minute and take care of each other a little. In whatever way it happens, you can tell each other all about yourselves, and just be the two of you again -- the same two people, more tired, older but still recognizable, who were once so wildly, crazily in love with each other.