Do you and your partner feel like you are flatmates raising children together rather than the romantic couple you started out as? If you do, then you are not alone with many couples saying that they have found themselves in the exact same place after children.
Typically, it seems that once the children come along, couples turn their attention to raising the kids and keeping the finances in order. After some years of this, many couples will look at each other and realise that they do not have a romantic relationship anymore. In fact, many couples will tell me that they feel so disconnected that they are not even sure if the relationship is salvageable.
A significant number of couples I work with for relationship counselling will find that this has happened to them. Often they recognise this but don’t know how to change the current situation or to get the real relationship back on track. Also by this stage, there are often other issues that have surfaced as the relationship has been left to stagnate. Issues such as constant or volatile fighting and infidelities are two areas that seem to evolve frequently from this ‘flatmate’ stage of a relationship.
If you identify with this feeling, then it is not too late to save your relationship and get it back to a place where it is not just a co-parenting role. Most importantly, once you realise that this is where you are at, you need to make the relationship your priority. It can’t be something that you take note of to work on in the future, nor can it be scheduled in for next month. Right now, it needs to move into the first priority position.
Of course the children still need to be fed and the money brought in to keep the family unit running, but the couple relationship needs to be put right up there with those two fundamentals. After all, if you don’t get the couple relationship right then it may not last and then the kids and the finances also suffer. So, as hard as it may be to switch your thinking from ‘family first’ to ‘couples first’, it needs to be done. It is not selfish, it is for you, your partner and the family.
As a couple, reflect on what you used to do together or for each other before the children. Naturally you can’t go back to that exact same life, but you can take elements of what you had previously and incorporate it into your current situation. For example, perhaps you used to like to go dancing together but have not done that since the kids arrived on the scene. Find a baby sitter, make plans and go dance together.
Many couples are aware that they need to be having the obligatory ‘date night’ but either don’t bother as time is tight or aren’t really that interested. Date night does not mean you need to go to a fancy restaurant every time and sit there trying to find something to talk about other than the children. Get creative, think outside the box. Again, what did you previously like to do together? Go for a walk on the beach, go to a theme park (without the kids), hire a kayak, and plan a picnic, a bushwalk, even a bottle of wine under the stars in the backyard is perfectly acceptable. The point is, it doesn’t matter what it is, it just matters that you are spending time together without the children. As a couple. Just a couple, not mum and dad. Frequently, not once a year.
So start planning now, today, put it in the diary, it is a priority. Without the relationship, everything else doesn’t work so well. This is a starting point to finding that relationship you used to have and ditching the flatmate label. When you have time together, talk about what else you used to have in your relationship that you no longer have and would like. Make specific requests of each other to try and restore some of these things.
Creating a good relationship at the start is the easy part. Maintaining a strong, healthy relationship after years together and children is the part that requires attention and constant maintenance. It can be done and quite easily, with the right tools. Just put the relationship first!!