Unity is an essential part of marriage, but every married couple will be challenged to stay unified through the various seasons of life. For Dave and I, our hardest years as a married couple have been those since we’ve had kids. Our four boys are most certainly beautiful blessings from God, but trying to raise them well while also striving to keep our marriage strong has proven to be one of the hardest things we have ever done. Over the years, we’ve learned that we have to be super-intentional with our time, responses, and attention to one another to stay on the same page and cultivate a thriving marriage, especially through the busy child-rearing years.
If you and your spouse are struggling to stay unified in the thick of raising kids, take heart—there are some practical steps that you both can take to get on the same page. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Put your kids to bed a little early.
This will vary based on age, but an early bedtime for your kids means a little more one-on-one time for the two of you. Take an hour or two to sit down and talk at the end of the day. Use this time to talk openly, listen intently, reconnect, dream together, laugh together, and grow closer. You’ll be amazed at what this time will do for the unity in your marriage, and your kids might even behave better the next day because they will feel more rested (bonus!).
2. Go on a regular date night.
When Dave and I were going through our pre-marital counseling, our “mentor couple” encouraged us to try and do this “….especially once you have kids.” And, so we’ve tried our best to keep a weekly date night with the help of some reliable and trustworthy sitters since we live far away from our families.
Date nights definitely take some planning and budgeting, but this special time together will serve the unity of your marriage well especially in the midst of raising children. Date nights don’t have to be super expensive. If things are especially tight, put the kids to bed extra early one night, make a nice dinner at home, and watch a new movie on Netflix together. Turn off the phone and laptop and spend some uninterrupted time together. We cannot establish or maintain unity with one another when we constantly feel like we are competing for one another’s time and attention. So, take this time to focus on each other and your relationship.
If you don’t have a sitter network, you can check out websites like Care.com or even your neighborhood website for local babysitters. There are also great programs at places like your local YMCA that offer “Parent’s Night Out” programs where certified and background-checked sitters watch your kids for three to four hours while you go out on the town. It is usually affordably-priced, and they even feed your kiddos too!
Even if you can’t swing a date night every week, that’s okay. Start with a date night a month and try to increase it from there. Be creative with how you use that time, and you’ll find that date nights are a great way to reconnect, lighten up some of the tension that you might be feeling at home, and get on the same page.
Bottom line–date nights give the two of you the chance to be just the two of you for a little while. And, that’s a beautiful thing.
3. Don’t see one another as enemies when it comes to disciplining your kids. Instead, support one another by being a unified front.
Dave and I don’t fight very often, but this one issue has gotten us into a few arguments. And, kids pick up on a divided couple really fast. It’s important that couples sit down and talk about what expectations they have for their kids when it comes to behavior. Talk about what the consequences will be when the kids misbehave. Be specific. You might even want to write it down for the whole family to see, so there is no misunderstanding.
You and your spouse were raised in different households, so you are most likely going to differ in your approach to discipline. That is precisely why you must talk through how you want to raise and discipline your kids. Talk about the end goal. What kind of people are you aiming to raise? What is most important–grades, character, faith, respecting elders, etc.? Really get down to the nitty-gritty details. Once you talk through it all, you both will be on the same page in your expectations and feel more equipped to teach and discipline your kids as a united front. Your kids will realize that they can’t play the two of you against one another–which they will absolutely try to do, at least once…those clever little boogers.
4. Don’t use the busyness of raising kids as an excuse for neglecting your marriage.
This may sound harsh, but it’s a common path for many married couples with children. We tell ourselves that our kids need us more than our spouse, so we stop paying attention to and caring for our partner and give all of our best attention to our children. Yes, our kids do need so much of our best attention, but putting our marriage on the back burner in an effort to meet more of our child’s needs is an unhealthy and unbalanced pursuit. And, it leads to a divided and dysfunctional marriage.
We can’t expect our marriage to thrive on autopilot. We must be intentional with our time and invest in our marriage daily by doing little acts of love for our spouse. There are days when this will be extremely difficult, but we must choose to do it anyway.
We shouldn’t feel guilty about taking time to invest in our marriage while we have kids in our home. In fact, they benefit too. They will see the love that their parents have for one another and that a healthy marriage is a priority that is worth the time and effort. When we choose to invest in our marriage each and every day, we will cultivate unity and a greater love and respect for one another. There will be more peace and understanding in our home, and we will have the kind of marriage that makes our kids feel more secure. But most of all, we won’t just stay together “because of the kids.” We will build a rock-solid, unified marriage that will thrive through the child-rearing years and happily anticipate the empty-nester season hand-in-hand.