While many of the couples I work with talk about the challenges of maintaining a close emotional relationship over time, couples with children often seem to have the biggest challenge in this regard. Research supports this, indicating that relationship satisfaction declines after having children. Many of the couples I see describe feeling like they are co-parents, just two people managing a home and all of the tasks involved in raising children. What they are missing is the emotional intimacy and connection of the relationship they used to be before having children.
What can couples do to help bring this part of their relationship back? As is often the case, the first step is acknowledging the problem. By doing this together, a couple can feel like they are a team. Couples can also acknowledge the reality of their situation—life with small children means less time for the couple. But this will not always be the case. As the children grow older, the couple will move out of the current time-starved phase. The task is not to go back to how things were before kids, but to do things that will sustain the relationship, acknowledging that in times of particular stress it may simply be a case of keeping your heads of above water until there is more time to devote more to the relationship. Couples can look for small ways to connect even when there isn’t a lot of time.
How can couples therapy or marriage counselling help? People often know what they could or should do that might make a difference, but struggle with actually doing it. Sometimes they get caught in blaming each other, or question if emotional intimacy is even important to their partner. One person may not want to reach out and make the effort for fear that it won’t be returned. Sometimes couples just don’t know where to start and need a guiding hand. And in some cases, there are deep hurts or resentments that prevent couples from moving forward and rebuilding the close relationship that they used to have. In couple therapy, a trained couple’s therapist can help support and guide a couple through the process of regaining their footing as intimate partners, not just co-parents.