You’ve probably heard that kids can be hard on relationships, and maybe you’ve even experienced it firsthand. After all, it can be tough to prioritize romance when you’re changing poopy diapers and stressing over bedtime.
One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that the rate of decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly twice as steep for couples who have kids than those who are childless. Another study from Baylor University found that there’s a happiness gap between couples in the US who are parents and non-parents—with the parents losing out.
Of course, kids can add immeasurable happiness to couples’ lives, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a couple that will say (or even think) that they regret having children. But raising kids is no joke, and it can challenge your ability to put your partner first.
“Balancing being a parent with being romantic partners is not easy,” says licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago. “Many couples struggle with finding a way to have it all.” Clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, agrees. “Having a child is such a powerful experience, and a couple can forget what brought them together in the first place—their love and affection for each other before their kids existed,” he says.
According to licensed marriage and family therapist Lesli Doares, author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage, relationship satisfaction “takes a real hit” when parents raise their children, often because parents get so busy that they don’t have (or make) time to work on their relationship. But she says doing that is the best gift you can give to your kids. “Good parents are good romantic partners and vice versa,” she says.
Of course, there’s a big difference between knowing it’s important to keep your kids from messing with your relationship and actually doing it. Here are a few expert tips to keep you on the right path.
Do one romantic thing a day
It sounds easy, but odds are you’re not doing this now. Klow recommends keeping it simple, like writing a loving note or text, giving your SO a lengthy hug or even slipping them a tiny gift. You can also show romance by taking action, like emptying the dishwasher when you know how much they hate doing it.
Play the (sexy) long game
Foreplay isn’t just what happens at the beginning of sex, Klow says—it can be a buildup of hours or days in advance of actual boots knocking. If you know you’ll have together-time later in the week, make sure to throw some meaningful looks and physical contact into the mix in advance. It could go further than you’d think.
Have a state of the union
It’s important to take the pulse of your relationship whether you have kids or not, but once little ones come into the mix, checking in with your partner often gets sidelined in favor of more pressing issues. That’s why Doares recommends taking some time to talk to your SO about what you love about your relationship now and where there’s room for improvement—and actually listening to each other and doing something about it.
Make “appreciate” a regular part of your vocabulary
“Many couples I work with benefit from regular expressions of validation and appreciation throughout the week,” Klow says. That can be as simple as saying, “Thank you so much for you doing [insert great thing they did here]. It means a lot to me,” or just “I appreciate you.” This lets them know you see them as more than a co-parent, Klow says.
For the rest of this article, visit SheKnows.