When you’re married with kids, it’s not a question of if your relationship will feel strain, but rather, what you can actually do about it. Answer? Plenty. And yet, the last thing you need is more stuff piled onto your multiple, spinning plates. We got you. Here are the 15 easiest, most actionable tips the universe (and the internet) has to offer. Happy marriage = happy kids. Let’s do this.
15 Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage When You’ve Got Kids
1. Switch chores
He packs the kids’ lunches and buys the birthday party presents; you take out the garbage and walk the dog. One way to liberate yourself from feeling trapped in gender roles is to switch them up—even by starting small.
2. Book a regular date night sitter
And force yourselves not to cancel on her. Not even for Netflix. Or a kid with separation anxiety.
3. Try something new together as a family
Studies show that trying new and exciting physical activities as a couple—anything that raises your heart-rate—stimulates your brain and body to build connections. But there’s no law against bringing your kids along. Six Flags? Endorphin City.
4. Take a weekend vacation
This couple went to Jamaica for 48 hours (the grandparents watched their two kids). Another pair we know did Paris in three days. Don’t get jealous; get tickets.
5. Fight smart
The three most important words to say during any argument (even an infuriating one): I. Hear. You.
6. Have sex (even when you don’t want to)
Yes, you are touched out. Yes, that’s a real thing. But science has declared that sex just once a week is the optimum amount for maximizing happiness. Bam. Furthermore: "Kids whose parents' relationship has cooled are more likely to have behavioral or academic problems than kids of happy couples," says one UC Berkeley researcher. So having sex = good parenting.
7. Hug hello, kiss goodbye
“Sure, you hug your kids and pet your dog every day. But do you greet your husband with the same enthusiasm?” asks CNN. Whose side are you even on, CNN?
8. Make bedtime ridiculously early
When you and your spouse are both free from 7 to 10 p.m., you’ll have to talk to each other eventually.
9. Sneak in one-on-one time
Even a walk around the block together while the kids are at school or a playdate, or the drive home from a drop-off class can produce the ember that reignites the flame. The same goes for doing housework together. Then no one gets to fight over who does more of it.
10. Let him make the damn toast
Relinquish total control. Let your husband take a total-immersion crash course in parenting. Your kids really will survive a day with their dad. It’s a tip we picked up from Jancee Dunn’s How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, wherein she defines “Maternal Gatekeeping.” That’s when “You deliberately shut out your partner and there are so many different ways. When I started to key into what I was doing—I was practicing maternal gatekeeping all day long. Even when I texted with other moms about an issue at school and my husband would ask what’s going on, I would say, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’ That’s maternal gatekeeping. Or I would say, ‘That’s not how she likes her toast.’ Let him make the damn toast. Who cares? It’s a way to tell him he’s doing it wrong and I know better; ‘This is not how she dresses, this is not how she wears her hair.’ Who cares?”
11. Say thank you
Dunn started thanking her husband so frequently, he reflexively started thanking her back, making her feel “visible.” Science proves she’s on to something: Feeling and expressing gratitude enhances mental health, happiness, fends off illness and—the holy grail—improves sleep.
12. Ask for help. Out loud.
The myth of the hero-goddess-have-it-all mom is a silencing, strangling, pressure-cooker beast. On their best days, spouses are not mind-readers. Rather than stewing in resentment over the fact that someone is lying down watching Neil deGrasse Tyson on YouTube while you still have lunches to pack, dishes to do, recycling to put out and honey to scrape off the arms of your chairs, ask calmly, clearly and specifically for the help you need (and rest assured: you most definitely do need it). Never assume your spouse will automatically understand the chairs need to be cleaned, even as honey sticks to his arm hair. As one mantra goes: When in doubt, say it out loud.
13. Pay (slightly) less attention to your kids
Over-parented kids do not turn out more confident or self-reliant. Writes author David Code in To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First: “Many emotionally lonely parents find themselves becoming too emotionally attached to their children often to the children’s detriment…The key is to recognize the difference between a healthy attachment to one’s child and an unhealthy ‘marriage’ to one’s child…Today’s children are more troubled because we’ve started marrying our kids instead of our spouses.” Anyone know a good date night sitter?
14. Bust out the old photos
Dig out and display that shot of you guys climbing Machu Picchu on your honeymoon or on his roommate’s couch after college. (Look kids: no gray hair!) A visual reminder of how far you two have come may remind you that you can (and will) go the distance.
15. It’s the little things
Researchers found that 35 percent of couples say marriage is in fact what makes parenting “bearable.” As they put it, “The transition to parenthood is hard, but being married helps soften the blow.” Right. How exactly? Their report suggests both spouses “are happier in their marriages when they make a regular effort to serve their spouse in small ways—from making them a cup of coffee, to giving them a back rub after a long day, to going out of their way to be affectionate or forgiving.” Both spouses need to do this for it to work. See what happens when you go first.