Nine Secrets to a Happy Marriage — with Children!

By Guest Contributor Jenna McCarthy, iVillage

marriedchildrenandbeinghappy

Yes, it’s possible to keep the romance alive, even after you have kids. Here’s how…

1. Put Each Other First (Yes, Before the Kids)

When it comes to building a healthy (and sexy!) marriage when you’re not only husband-and-wife but mom-and-dad, too — what should come first? Your spouse or your kids? Relationship expert Charles J. Orlando, author of The Problem with Women…is Men says it’s your hubby! “It’s not that the kids matter ‘less’,” Orlando says. “It’s that the marriage is the backbone of the house and everyone needs to see it and feel it.” Orlando’s suggestion: Make a beeline for your spouse the minute you walk in the door, and give him a big, fat kiss. It will make your partner feel special (and — bonus — your kids will feel secure).

2. Don’t Tell Dad How to Spend Time with the Kids

Moms and dads have very different roles in a child’s life. In most cases Mom is the nurturer, the vegetable-pusher, the kisser-of-skinned-knees. Dad is the fun one, the dude who lets them eat brownies for breakfast when you’re out of town (“It won’t kill them!”). Even though your methods are clearly superior (and safer), there’s no better way of saying “I trust and respect you” than biting your tongue and letting your hubby do it his way.

3. Just Say Yes

Research shows that the frequency with which you respond to requests in a positive manner is directly related to how happy and satisfying your relationships will be. Pay attention to how often you say things like, ‘Yes, that makes sense, tell me more,” or “You’re starting to convince me,” says Christine Carter PhD, sociologist, author and creator of the Raising Happiness online parenting classes. “Finding opportunities to say yes in a multitude of ways is a very controllable way to positively impact your marriage,” Carter adds.

4. Present a United Front

“Being your partner’s biggest fan is one of the key predictors of a great relationship,” Carter says. A fan doesn’t undermine your every decision or declaration, but backs it up with enthusiastic support. When your kids try to play the “But daddy said we could do it” card, resist the urge to fire back with “Well mommy says you can’t.” (This will admittedly require an excess of restraint.) A consistent show of solidarity also lets your kids know that together, mom and dad are a force to be reckoned with.

5. Exercise!

Being active keeps you healthy and models positive behavior for your kids. Plus “working out produces endorphins that make you happy, and happy people don’t kill their husbands,” says one practical married mom we know. Even if you don’t have time for daily doubles matches or trots on the treadmill (and um, who does?), a family bike ride or after-dinner stroll will give all of you a bonding, feel-good boost.

6. Make Sex a Priority (Again)

Sex makes babies, so it’s ironic that children often threaten the very romance that brought that child into being,” says Esther Perel, a psychotherapist and the author of Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & the Domestic. It’s never hard to find a reason not to do it, but sex really is the glue that holds a marriage together. So lock the bedroom door and get busy.

7. Choose Your Battles

If you go ballistic when he packs the wrong sandwich for your son’s lunch or misses the deadline to sign your daughter up for soccer, what’s left in your arsenal when he really screws up? Similarly, if you’re ready to take it to the mat over which children’s toothpaste is indeed best, you won’t have the energy to fight the bigger battles to come (think cell phones, homework, dating and curfews, to name but a few). Another argument for zipping your lip: If you’re always hovering nearby ready to ream your husband for every little blunder, he may stop making an effort altogether, says Mama Bird Diaries blogger Kelcey Kintner. Ask yourself “Will this matter in five minutes/weeks/years?” If the answer is “not really,” take a deep breath and let it go.

8. Accept That Not All Problems Are Solvable

A lot of your fights are probably based on fundamental personality differences when it comes to parenting (he’s a free-range dad, you’re a helicopter mom) and will likely come up again and again in different contexts. Consciously recognizing this leads to what Carter calls an upward spiral: When you accept that there are certain things about your partner that will never change, there’s no need to try to convince him that you’re right (and that subsequently, he’s wrong), she explains. Instead, you can focus on the commonalities — like the fact that you both care deeply and passionately about your kids. “Even if you’re at polar-opposite sides of an issue, that shared interest makes it not a deal-breaker for the marriage,” Carter adds.

9. Remember, You Were “Man and Wife” Before “Mom and Dad”

Before you have kids, having fun is pretty much your job as a couple. After the stork makes a visit, co-parenting becomes your single, most important collaboration. (Did you schedule her dentist appointment? Should he see a speech therapist? Don’t forget her recital is on Saturday!) That’s natural — but it also means you have to work a little harder to maintain your connection as a couple. “Research shows that having an activity that you can do together predicts intimacy in a relationship,” Carter says. Take up tennis, go bowling, have a picnic, go for a hike, put down
your damned iPhone/Blackberry/Droid and just have an actual conversation. Someday the kids will be grown and gone, and you’ll be glad you’re married to a guy you know how to have fun with.

Continue reading for more secrets to a happy marriage…with children!

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