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Marriage Builders

6 great ways to strengthen your relationship during the parenting years

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When I heard the front door open and John's briefcase plop down on the floor, I knew I should put the spaghetti sauce aside and give my husband a big "welcome home" hug. I already heard the kids shouting, "Daddy's home, Daddy's home!"

But I didn't feel like it. I was bone tired from being cooped up with five kids, ages two to nine, all day. It seemed as though John and I just passed in the night. Our conversations revolved around matters as deep as who was going to pick up the dry cleaning; we never shared the way we used to before life got so crazy with the kids. We didn't have time or energy to connect, and I felt as though we were drifting apart.

Help, Lord, I said as I put down the spatula to go greet him. Please show me how we can grow closer instead of pulling apart.

While I love my kids, I want and need to continue to grow in my marriage. How do I do this in the midst of raising children plus handling everything else that's on my plate? Here are six actions that have helped me strengthen my marriage.

1. Reverse the Drift

Life feels crazy when you're changing diapers all day or breaking up yet another fight between siblings. Then your time becomes consumed with soccer games, homework, carpooling, volunteering, and perhaps working outside the home. When the last child leaves the nest, you wonder, What do my husband and I have in common besides the kids?

In every season of parenting, the tendency is to drift apart, to let the children's needs take over. It's so subtle, you may not even realize it's happening. That's why it's important to keep your relationship with your mate your first priority. You'll have your children at home for 18 years, but, God willing, your spouse will be there for a lifetime.

In our case, John and I realized we needed a way to let our kids know Mom and Dad's relationship came first. So when John got home from work, we began having a cup of tea together and visiting for 20 minutes. Then he played with the kids while I got dinner ready. We told the kids they could be in the same room but not speak to us during our "tea time." The first night they gathered around us and tried to monopolize things, but we held firm. When they realized we meant it, they quickly became bored and left us alone.

During our time together, we asked questions that called for more than a one-word answer—questions such as, "What is something that happened today that made you feel satisfied? How are you feeling about yourself? If we had unlimited funds, perfect childcare, and three days of vacation, what would you want to do?"

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Marriage Builders