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How to Keep a Marriage Healthy After Children

Parenthood can put a strain on any marriage but these tips will keep your family and marriage happy and healthy.  From The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by New York Times bestselling author and clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel, Ph.D.

Along with the pride and excitement of parenthood come changes that can drive couples apart and into the arms of their children. Parenthood tests a marriage as few other circumstances will. For the first time, a couple can’t simply work out their problems with each other because there’s always one extra person (or more) involved. After children, disagreements crop up where there were none before — fundamental differences about priorities, money, stability, discipline, schooling, religion. It’s sometimes easier to avoid newfound differences than to struggle through them. Instead of a friend, your spouse becomes a target for secret bitterness. You can feel like a martyr and soothe your loneliness in the company of the children. Being too busy or too devoted to the kids is an excellent way of avoiding real time with your partner, during which you’d have to face and resolve your difficulties. Without time and attention, the marriage becomes an edifice riddled with termites.

As your children grow older and everything gets more complicated, the first thing to give way will be your weakened marriage. Time alone with your spouse can weatherproof your relationship, protecting it from the storms of raising a family. Getting out of the house one evening a week is a good start. Even more important, try to get away from home and kids altogether for a night or two on a regular basis. In order to reconnect emotionally with your mate, you need to be on different turf, even if it’s just a resort a few miles out of town.

In a new setting, all the positive aspects of your partner have a chance to get cued — the way he engages people, the way he notices plants and flowers, the way she loves the water, her sense of humor. Alone with each other, you can remember why you elected to make this journey with this particular human being. The differences will still be there, but when you get around to discussing them, they’ll be balanced by warm feelings and memories of good times you’ve had recently, not five months or five years ago.

Getting away together is also the best way to think clearly about your lives. Many schools and businesses sponsor a retreat for the administration at least once a year. Why do they go to Lake Arrowhead instead of just brainstorming in the conference room? Because these organizations recognize that in order to do your best thinking, you need three things: a new environment, somebody else to prepare the meals, and the opportunity to take a walk in the woods (or on the streets of San Francisco, if that’s what works for you). The family is as important an enterprise as a business, and the leaders of the family need to get away too. Just as Moses and Aaron retreated to the Tent of Meeting to escape the demands of the Children of Israel, a mother and father need to escape their children once in a while. This is incredibly beneficial for the children, because when you return, you’re more of a team again. You’re not so resentful, you’re not such a martyr. If you can get away long enough to reflect, you might decide to rid yourselves of some of the activities that have been taking up so much of your family’s time.

Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee (Copyright © 2001 by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D.) is a clinical psychologist, parent educator, and keynote speaker for educational and religious organizations and schools. She lives in Los Angeles and is at work on her next book, The Blessing of a B Minus.




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