Updated: Sep 20
Balancing adult needs with the demands of young children can be challenging. I don’t know about you, but it is one of the main things my husband and I seem to be trying to figure out at the moment. Especially as the children have different needs – those of my ten year old, who wants to stay up a bit longer and chat and eat with us, is different from my 4 and 6 year old, who still need an earlier bedtime and a good night’s sleep! But that can mean that we start food and bedtime at around 5.30pm and by the time our eldest is in bed, it’s 21.30… and at that point we adults are often so exhausted, that we just fall into bed ourselves!
But that means that our time as a couple is really limited and unless we go out on a date, our ability to have a proper conversation and just spend time with each other without the kids is tricky to say the least!
So, what do we do about it?
Over the years, I’ve loved the following 5 ideas that I want to share with you here.
Tigertime is a concept where you set aside some quality time either for yourself, or with your children, or your partner. And then you ‘protect’ this time fiercely, like a Tiger defends its cub. We’ve started using this in our family and the kids love it – as they all get their own ‘Tigertime’ with either myself, or my husband, they know how special the time is, so they tend not to disturb their sibling’s time (as they don’t want to be disturbed either). This has meant they are much more willing to accept that clear boundary of each of them having time to spend one-on-one with us and they look forward to their own time being respected equally. We’ve created a hotel-type door sign that gets hung on the door when ‘Tigertime is in progress’ and the kids love it. My husband and I have decided to try the same for us, too. And pick one night a week that is our ‘Tigertime’ to sit and have a nice meal together at a certain time. If the kids are not asleep by that point, the idea is they help each other and give us our quality time, too. If I am honest, I still struggle to give myself and my husband this time sometimes – and there are weeks where it simply doesn’t happen, as bedtime has slipped and the kids are overtired and need our help. BUT I love the concept and each week we do our best to stick to our Tigertime – just like we would for the kids’ Tigertime.
2) Lunch dates
There was a podcast that I listened to a few months ago and this marriage expert was talking about how we often spend hours in meetings with near strangers and colleagues all day long, and give them our ‘best’ hours of the day in terms of us being full of energy, attentive, engaged and observant, only to come home after work totally exhausted and hardly able to hold a full conversation. Certainly not after all the jobs are done for the day – cooking dinner, tidying up, getting children ready for bed and maybe even finishing off a bit of work for a deadline. So we miss out on any quality time with our spouse – supposedly one of the most important people in our lives! The marriage expert argued that this kind of behaviour (which we all do!) is crazy for our relationships – and one of her best pieces of advice were – if you can (and especially if you are able to work from home every now and again) – take that time over lunch and switch off work and take yourself and your partner for a lunchtime date. When you are both full of energy! Talk and eat and laugh together. Give your partner the attention you’d give your work colleagues
My husband and I have started doing this and it’s been really great fun. Sometimes we go for a walk and a sandwich together, sometimes we go out for a quick bite to eat, sometimes it’s just some soup at home and a chat. But the point is – we both book the time out in our diaries and give each other undivided attention for that 1 hour lunch break.
3) Code word & Save it for later
Another podcast I was listening to, talked about how all relationships have periods, or days where there is conflict and that we all need to find a way to deal with these differences in constructive ways. I know that my husband and I sometimes have different parenting styles or approaches to handling conflict with the kids. There were two pieces of advice given on this podcast that really resonated with me:
Agree a code word with your partner, so that when one of you is getting really frustrated or being triggered by a situation with the kids, they can use that code word. This can then be a signal for you to step in and take over, so that your partner can take themselves off to give themselves some time out and calm down. By having a code word to help each other you’ll be able to really effectively communicate with each other when you need some help and can step away without exploding, or blaming the kids. Plus, you feel more connected to your partner, because you feel like they’ve got your back when there is a situation that’s tough for you.
The second piece of advice was when you are getting frustrated with your partner. Rather than exploding right in the moment, the suggestion is that you ‘save the conflict until later’ (I know, sometimes far easier said than done!!) The idea is that you then get together in the evening when the kids are in bed and make sure you talk about what was going on for you during the earlier conflict, what you struggled with (in a non-confrontational way), as well as more generally what you appreciate about your partner. That way you both are forced to calm down first. Plus, by highlighting things that you appreciate about your partner in the conversation as well, your brain is forced to take a more balanced view of the situation and foster more empathy and understanding for each other.
4) Know your partner’s love language
I’ve written about love languages many times and I really love the concept. I think it is hugely rewarding to understand how you can best show your partner love and affection and how they can in turn show you as well. The first time I read about the different love languages, it totally blew my mind – knowing that what makes me feel valued and loved may be totally different to how my partner feels loved is an incredibly powerful way to understand each other better and really show love the way that matters most to both of you!
I know my husband and I have different love languages, so bringing him a cup of tea, for example means a huge amount to him (but not so much to me) – whereas if he sits and talks to me one-on-one and makes that time for me, I feel hugely loved (but he wouldn’t particularly, if I did the same for him…!). If you want to find out more about Love languages, you can read my blog here.
5) Take turns planning dates
This is another one I really like the idea of – agree a regular date night – maybe once a month – where you get a babysitter in and actually go out and spend some time together. And then take turns to plan the activity for the date and surprise each other. This adds so much fun to the date – or so we’ve found! It’s great, as you share the responsibility for doing something nice together rather than it always falling to one person to do. Plus, you get reminded (or learn again) what your partner likes and what they don’t! It adds variety too, as you both make an effort to think of something nice for each other to do. As one article I read stated: “Taking turns to plan date nights can be a great way to keep your relationship strong and healthy. It helps ensure that both partners have an opportunity to plan and enjoy a variety of activities, and shows a mutual commitment to the relationship.”
My husband and I have done this in small ways – for example when we go out for a meal we’ll sometime leave it to the other person to order our meal for us – just to see what they come up with and to try new things to eat
I’ve listed some ideas for date nights below – they don’t have to be expensive or cumbersome to organise. In fact, we find the simpler the date, the better and more memorable it is!
Top date night ideas
Picnic in the park: Pack a picnic basket with your favorite foods and drinks, and head to a nearby park. Spread out a blanket, enjoy the scenery, and spend some quality time together.
Cooking class: Sign up for a cooking class and learn to make a new dish together. Not only is it a fun and educational experience, but you'll also have a delicious meal to enjoy at the end.
Movie night: Whether it's at home or at the cinema, a movie night can be a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend time together. Choose a movie you both enjoy, and don't forget the snacks!
Game night: Board games, card games, or video games can be a fun way to spend time together and bring out your competitive side.
Wine tasting: If you enjoy wine, consider going on a wine tasting tour. It's a great way to learn about different wines and enjoy some beautiful scenery.
Art exhibit: Visit a local art exhibit or museum and explore the art together. It's a great way to learn something new and spark interesting conversations.
Karaoke night: Sing your heart out and have some fun at a karaoke night. You don't have to be a great singer to have a good time!
Outdoor adventure: Go hiking, biking, or kayaking together. It's a great way to get some exercise, enjoy the great outdoors, and create some lasting memories together.
Whatever ways you find to spend time with each other the most important thing is to spend quality time together and enjoy each other's company. Choose activities that you both enjoy and have fun!
I also know that prioritizing your relationship can be challenging when you're busy with work, children, and other responsibilities, but it's important for maintaining a healthy and happy partnership. And that in turn will benefit not only you, ultimately your children too – as they learn crucial life skills, when they see you meet your own needs, value your relationship and they are able to grow up in a stable, happy family environment – where every member gets what they need not just the kids – and not just the parents! (often much harder said than done, though!! ;-).
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