Happily married couples offer their children many short- and long-term benefits. Children raised by such parents enjoy security, emotional stability and healthy role modeling for a variety of present and future relationships. Yet the arrival of children can challenge the connection between even the most loving couples.

One of the biggest mistakes parents make is putting all their emphasis on trying to meet the needs of the children. While that’s important, it shouldn’t come at the cost of the relationship. Couples need to continue to nurture each other and themselves in order to maintain stable family relationships.

A key to nurturing those relationships is communication. Communication can break down easily when you’re worn out, stressed and sleep deprived, but it’s important to communicate with each other regularly and specifically about one another’s needs. People in successful relationships communicate their needs to each other and establish plans to meet them.

That’s not always easy when children demand so much time and energy. But the following tips can help assure your relationship the time and attention it needs to flourish.

Establish and stick to schedules and rituals for your children. Time management is critical when children enter the scene — not only for the parents but for the children too. For example, establishing firm bedtime routines for your children can free up time later in the evening for couples to spend alone together. This can help couples connect on a daily basis.
Set one night aside each week for a date with each other. Date nights give couples an opportunity to identify more in their roles as spouses rather than as parents. Ground rules can help couples establish guidelines about what date nights might mean and help them steer clear of discussing topics that introduce conflict.
Spend extended time alone together. Once or twice a year it’s a good idea to spend a weekend alone together. It’s not necessary to leave town. It’s just important to give each other some undivided attention for a longer period of time.
For many couples, children help you take a look inside yourself and see how much love and emotion you have — love and emotion that can also nurture a marriage relationship.

As published in the June 22, 2003 Edition of the La Crosse Tribune.