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Can there be bliss after babies?

Posted: January 18, 2014 11:26 p.m.
Updated: January 18, 2014 11:26 p.m.
 

Whether you believe in love at first sight or not, holding your child for the first time can make a believer out of anyone.

Having children is arguably the most life-altering and unforgettable experiences of a person’s life, but parenthood also comes with its attendant challenges, especially when it comes to maintaining a romantic relationship or marriage.

“The dynamic changes when you have kids,” said April De Higes, a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Valencia. “The first child is a huge adjustment, and the hardest part is probably the first year of the first child’s life.”

So how do you keep that flame of passion alight once children enter the picture? Is it even possible? The answer is yes, of course; it will just take a little more planning than it once did.

Be intentionally personal

Telling each other, “I love you,” followed by a swift peck a couple times a day, will not be enough to keep the romance alive.

“You need to remember to do the things your partner loved in the beginning of the relationship,” De Higes said.
Deliberately set out to do something to show your spouse that he or she is the most important thing in your life.

It doesn’t have to be huge, either, she said. A special note is fine. Set aside a date night once a week, and get a babysitter.

One husband gave his wife a jar for Valentine’s Day labeled, “1,000 Reasons Why I Love Her.” His wife said it was the best gift she ever received.

Make sure, however, your efforts meet your spouse’s wants and needs.

Speak each other’s love languages

“The 5 Love Languages” is a best-selling book by author and marriage counselor Gary Chapman.

It describes five different ways people like to have love shown to them: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, receiving gifts and quality time.

“I often recommend that couples read that book together,” De Higes said. “Your love language may not necessarily be the same as theirs, but it’s about what the other person wants.”

A woman, for example may appreciate acts of service best, which could include filling up her car with gas because she dreads the task.

“It’s showing the person you love them through action,” De Higes said.

To find out your love languages, take a test online at 5lovelanguages.com.

“You can also just ask each other, ‘What is it that makes you feel loved?’” she said.

Make eye contact

It seems that once children come, there’s always a squalling baby, noisy television or sink full of dishes in between a couple’s conversation.

“We’re always multitasking, but it’s really important to make time to discuss issues and just check in with each other,” De Higes said.

De Higes suggests taking at least 20 to 30 minutes to sit down, face each other and be present with each other each day.

A 1989 study suggests another exercise. Stare into each other’s eyes for two minutes. That’s all.

The “Looking and Loving” study asked complete strangers to do just this, and they found “in some cases, [eye contact] was enough to produce passionate feelings for each other,” according to the Journal of Research in Personality.

This seemingly inexplicable reaction occurs because “when you look someone directly in the eyes the body produces [a] chemical called phenylethylamine,” a chemical which makes people feel love.

The Signal asked its readers how they keep their marriage happy after children, and Lisa Eddings Andersen said  this kind of deliberate alone time is key.

“Make sure you put your kids to bed at a reasonable hour so you and your hubby can have some down time together,” she said. “I have to say, it’s the best part of my day.”

Put each other first

Even with dedicated alone time, kids will take most of your attention.

“The priority is the kids first – that’s what marriage is for,” said Sandy Pida in the Signal Facebook survey.
But remember to save a little of that attention and energy for your spouse.

“It’s a myth that the more attention we give our kids, the better they’ll turn out,” said David Code, a family coach and author of “To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First.” “We seem to be marrying our kids instead of our spouses because we find it easier to be with our kids than our partners.”

Code argues your spouse should come first in your life, and as your relationship improves, so too will your relationships with your children.

“It’s OK to give yourself permission to make your spouse your priority – at certain points,” De Higes said, though she doesn’t believe the spouse should always be the top priority. “The marital relationship needs to be nurtured because it affects how the couple parents, and ultimately, a strong bond will help in parenting and show the child that parents value each other.”

Being married isn’t easy. If it was, the U.S. divorce rate wouldn’t be so high. But it can be made beautiful and enriching and exhilarating if you take the time to maintain it, even after the advent of children.

It’s easy to grown distant in a marriage, de Higes said. So couples need to continually work to nurture the relationship.

“It’s been my experience that having children has added to the success and happiness of our marriage and our family,” said Melanie Potter Maki in the Signal survey. “That being said, make your spouse a priority. Have their back. You’d be surprised how many people don’t.”

Deseret News Service contributed to this story.

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