Maintaining Your Marriage During the Parenting Years

married couple in a grocery store
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Date nights during the courtship years might have included bouquets of roses, candlelight dinners and strolls through the park. But date night looks quite different now that you have kids. These days, your “romantic evenings” may more often involve finding free food samples at the grocery store and then heading to the dollar movie theater.

My husband, James, and I even like going to the Hispanic supermarket on a weekend with our kids to make them practice Spanish. It's highly educational, and the fresh, hot tortillas are delicious. On one such elaborate outing, we walked to the meat counter and looked for the ticket dispenser that read, "Take a number." As I pulled out my ticket and waited for service, I wondered, Does my husband ever feel like this?

"Forget intimacy — I've got to work early tomorrow. Take a number."

"No homemade dinner tonight — we've got to get to gymnastics. Take a number."

"Sure, we can go on a vacation just for two — in about 20 years? Take a number." 

In your hectic life of work, children and ministry, your spouse can rank about 89th on the list of things to do. Before kids, he was your focus and she was your priority. Now you feel more like humble servants to the little people in your house (who don't even pay rent!).

My friend Mark Matlock, executive director of Youth Specialties, writes in my book 31 Days to a Happy Husband, "It's really easy to let your kids become the centerpiece of your family's life. One of the things that make a home healthy and happy is when Mom and Dad are inviting their kids into their relationship. Their relationship is the anchor piece instead of the children being what it's all about."

That sounds radically different from "Take a number," doesn't it?

There's a giant person living in your house who needs your attention and affection: your spouse. If you're not careful, your mate can simply blend in with the furniture. You're used to him or her being around, and you figure your spouse can take care of herself or himself.

I remember one night James asked if I could get the kids to bed quickly because he wanted to give me a massage. You would think I would jump at the offer, but after kissing the kids goodnight, I went to the kitchen. I washed sippy cups, put dishes in the dishwasher and packed the diaper bag for the next day. I wanted to finish my to-do list.

When I finally walked into the bedroom, James looked tired. "If you don't want to give me a massage, that's fine. I took a long time in the kitchen," I mumbled lamely. He asked why I couldn't just leave the dishes in the sink. In the morning, he would happily have done them. And I realized my choice to work in the kitchen had implied to my husband: "Take a number."

It takes work to prioritize marriage as the No. 1 relationship in your home. It's easy to give lip service, but our actions often betray us. We get lost in the football game, catching up with work, grocery shopping, video games, social media and driving the kids around town.

Yet the difference between a ho-hum marriage and a dream marriage during the parenting years may take less than five minutes a day. Even as a busy parent, you can manage that. When you're walking to the grocery store with your kids in tow, grab your spouse's hand. Kiss him or her on the cheek and whisper, "I love you." Follow the wonderful advice of Dr. Cliff and Joyce Penner in 31 Days to a Happy Husband and kiss passionately for five to 30 seconds each day. Wives, be sure to let your husband know it won't be the go signal every time. And husbands, don't get all fired up and endeavor to whisk her away to the bedroom. This daily kiss is a reminder that you are lovers, not just roommates raising kids together.

When you greet your spouse after a long day at work, don't just grunt or keep staring at your phone. Hug your spouse. Lock eyes for at least three seconds. Tell her she looks beautiful. Tell him you appreciate him. These small gestures say, "I see you and I value you" instead of "Take a number."

But what if you don't feel like kissing or giving a sincere compliment to your spouse? I'd recommend that you start by doing and wait for the feelings to follow.

The next time you see a take-a-number ticket dispenser, remind yourself: My spouse is numero uno! As you prioritize your marriage, you just might experience romance and closeness again … even when you're simply grocery shopping.

Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and the author of several books, including 31 Days to a Happy Husband and 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife.

© 2015 Arlene Pellicane. Originally published on FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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