By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
I continue to see a growing trend in my private practice of partners struggling to find the balance between couple time and family time. Some parents become so focused on their children that they neglect their marriage in the process.
While children thrive when they receive lots of love from caregivers, parents need alone time to recharge and focus on their romantic relationship which brought them together in the first place.
According to psychologist Pat Love, “Each and every day, parents experience the joy of making a child’s life better, more productive, and far more meaningful – all while doing the same for themselves.”
Strive to balance your couple time and family time
In Fighting for Your Marriage, author Harold J. Markman, Ph.D. says the amount of fun partners have together is a key factor in predicting their overall marital happiness.
Markman explains, “When we interview couples planning marriage, we learn that most of them have tons of fun early in the relationship. But for too many, fun fizzles out as time goes by.”
Sydney and Kevin, both in their late-thirties, are raising two sons aged ten and twelve. They were on the brink of divorce because they had drifted apart. Both work full-time, are drained by the demands of parenting, and had fallen into the trap of neglecting their relationship.
Kevin reflects, “Sydney wants to spend most of her evenings and weekends as a family, but I don’t get home from work until 8pm most nights. By the time Friday night rolls around, I just want to go out to dinner with Syd. I see it as a priority to play with the boys on weekends, but I need time to recover from work and I want to spend more quality time with her.”
Sydney responds, “I didn’t realize you felt that way. I feel really torn. I don’t want to leave the kids with a babysitter on Friday nights because they’re in school and afterschool care all week.”
During couples therapy, Sydney and Kevin started questioning their priorities and how they spend time outside of work. Fortunately, they are dedicated to each other and determined to create couple time so they can avoid seeing their marriage crumble.
They decided to rotate every other Friday between a dinner date night out and a pizza and movie night in with the kids. This plan allowed all family members to get their needs met.
Dr. John Gottman’s research shows accepting your partner’s influence means considering their needs without placing blame or making judgments. After our second session, Sydney was able to accept Kevin’s influence and realized that having time alone with him every other Friday night could benefit the entire family. Sydney noticed that she was feeling closer to Kevin and that her sons actually enjoyed having a babysitter when their parents went out.
Here are five ways to balance your time as a couple and time as a family.
1. Schedule alone time with your partner
Couples who schedule alone time together are able to turn toward each other more often because there are fewer distractions.
Dr. John Gottman discovered that couples who divorced an average of 6 years after their wedding turned toward each other 33% of the time in his lab, while the couples who were together after 6 years turned toward each other 86% of the time. That’s a big difference.
2. Build your connection in small moments
As Sydney began spending more time with Kevin, I suggested that they practice expressing more interest in each other. Therapist Bob Navarra suggests couples ask questions about their day-to-day life in order to learn more about each other’s world.
Over time, this led to deeper levels of both emotional and sexual connection between Sydney and Kevin and strengthened their marriage.
3. Spend quality time together as a family
Be sure to plan special events and some vacation time with all family members, when possible, on a regular basis so everyone feels nurtured.
Ask your children what spending quality time as a family means to them. You may be surprised by their answers.
4. Let your kids know that you value your role as a partner AND parent
By doing this, you serve as a positive role model for healthy family relationships and you show your children your partnership is sacred.
When I met with Sydney and Kevin six months after our first session for a follow-up, they were going strong and embraced the notion that Kevin’s bid for attention, affection, and support saved them from dissolving their marriage. Fortunately, Sydney was wise enough to pay attention!
You don’t have to choose between being a good parent and a good partner. Working together to find the right balance will pay off in the long run for you, your marriage, and your family.