Sydney-based couples therapist Melissa Ferrari, who is also a parent, understands how all-consuming raising children can be.
“From what I see in my office on a daily basis, I also see a lot of how relationships suffer when the children are put first,” she said. ABC Radio Sydney.
So here’s how to wrestle the focus back from solely on the children to the adults in the family as well — even if it’s just a few moments each day.
It takes more than ‘date night’
While carving out some time for a child-free “date night” is valuable, Melissa wants couples to consider what they can do in between those all-too-rare events — even on the busiest of days — to keep their connection healthy.
It can be a certain look in the middle of a chaotic morning, a sneaky snuggle before rushing out the door, or a thoughtful comment: “I’ll be thinking of you”, or ‘good luck with the meeting today’.”
“All of those kinds of things, is what connection is really about, it’s kind of saying to your partner, ‘I see you, I value you’,” Melissa says.
“The truth is, that real connection does happen in those very, very small moments.”
When ABC Radio Sydney’s Afternoons program asked listeners what had worked for them, there were plenty of suggestions.
So here are some simple methods to put your partner first, as well as Melissa’s professional tips.
1. Look into their eyes
Melissa believes “we fall in love through the eyes”. So for a glimpse of the person you fell in love with, she recommends taking a moment to look into their eyes.
“I even encourage people, as you’re walking to the dishwasher, and you’ve got all your plates in your hand and one’s juggling the plates and another one’s putting the garbage outside… just stop and connect, even if it’s a few seconds. looking into each other’s eyes in all the chaos,” she says.
2. Create a ritual
For some couples finding a television show they both sit down and watch at least once a week is one of the most enjoyable and easy ways to spend time together.
“The ritual of watching the Outlander series with my husband helped us survive lockdown. We have two grown-up daughters living at home they both respected that this was their parents’ time together. Alone. We’d light candles drink drams of scotch just to get into the magic of it all.” — Helen
These listeners have a bed-time ritual:
“Great to hop into bed and cuddle up and listen to a chapter each night. Lovely, quality time.”
“My hubby and I sit up in bed in the morning — cup of tea and Wordle together.” — Gina
Another invested in a spa when their kids were 16 and 18:
“Every morning, my husband wakes up with a coffee, and we start our day here or in the spa. Just us and conversation before our day drags us away.”
When the children get older, these rituals could become more elaborate.
“The reason why that’s working is because it’s actually a ritual,” Melissa says.
“It’s a couple ritual…we do this together. And it helps create safety and security and it’s something you can both rely on.”
3. Read your partner a bedtime story
What you say to one another as you drift off to sleep or first thing in the morning is particularly important, Melissa says.
“Right before going to sleep and waking up are crucial times for strengthening that connection,” she says.
“Do that with your partner, just as you would with your child, even read your partner a bedtime story.”
It’s all part of “co-regulating” before sleep and when you wake up.
“Those times are really, really important because it helps regulate your nervous system with your partner,” she says.
“And that can make a profound difference if you take time at those small moments.”
4. Old-fashioned romance
Melissa is a big advocate for ditching the phone and focusing on your partner. Many listeners explained how they took 10 to 15 minutes for a chat over a cuppa when they first get home from work or while they are preparing dinner.
“I grew up in the 1950s. My parents were partners in business, and they always went for a short walk after dinner. They also didn’t worry much about things which don’t matter that much.”
5. Make agreements
If these suggestions still seem a bit out of reach in your busy lives, it could be time to simply settle the issue with your partner and agree to let it go for now. Some couples find it useful to make an agreement about focusing on the children and what that means for their relationship.
Melissa says couples don’t make enough agreements so parenting “can end up looking like the wild west”. An agreement can take the pressure off so both adults know what’s expected.
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