Hanging on my grandmother’s wall was a plaque that always made me stop when I was a child. It said that the greatest gift that a man can give his children is to love their mother. When I was a child, I heartily disagreed with that sentiment. I firmly believed that the best present involved a pony or candy; however, now as a parent, a spouse and marriage and family therapist, I have begun to think that Grandma was right.
In this crazy, rushing world that we live in today, we struggle just to get to work, clean the house and take care of our children. We put our relationships on the back burner and figure we will get to them when we have time. Unfortunately, when we have time, we find that due to the long neglect that the relationship has withered and died.
Why does it matter to our children whether or not our relationship is happy? Aren’t children egocentric little monsters who only think of their own needs? Well, yes, sometimes. But they grow better in an environment that is filled with happiness, love and smiles. And children are incredibly sensitive to the emotions that are swirling around them. If there is tension between the adults in the family, the children will feel it and will become tense themselves. They may also try doing whatever they can to fix the situation; they may try to take on tasks that are too much for them, they may try to make everyone laugh, they may simply disappear into the background or they may start acting out and getting into trouble in order to have their parents focus on something else.
Children, developmentally, feel that the world revolves around them. They are the reason that everything happens in this world. That means all the good stuff in the world is due to them, but so, also, is all the bad stuff. I had a little five-year-old boy ask me once, “If I had made my bed every day, would my parents still love each other?”
So before you turn around and find that your relationship has disappeared, please take some time to nurture it. At least once a month, go out on a date; twice a month is better, every week is fabulous. When you are out, this is not the time to talk about what bills are due or any other household junk. This is the time to catch up on who your partner is now, what are both of your hopes and dreams, where are you going, and how are you going to get there together.
It is also vital that you connect every morning and every evening. At the very least, give each other a kiss good bye and wish each other, sincerely, a good day. At the end of the day, check in with each other about how the day went. End with a kiss. These connections will take a short amount of time, but will have a major impact on the health of your relationship. By the way, kids love to see their parents express honest, healthy affection (within appropriate boundaries). But you may never get your child to admit that they think that it’s great!
Don’t forget the little things that you can do to tell your partner how happy you are to be in this relationship. Slip a note in a lunch or briefcase, send a seductive e-mail, give compliments, give hugs! The list is endless, only you and your partner know what is meaningful for you. And if you have forgotten, think back to when you were dating, or, even better, ask your spouse what would make him or her feel loved, and then give them that gift of love. And watch your relationship grow and thrive, as do your children in this wonderful environment. And you too will understand the value of my Grandmother’s wisdom.