No matter how hard you try to sustain the spark in your relationship, life seems to get in the way. There's the responsibility of running the household, your job, and of course your children, who gobble up almost every ounce of your energy on a daily basis. In my home, days can pass without my husband and me doing anything more intimate than brushing our teeth together. Side by side we stand, frothy spearmint goo dripping from our mouths. Sexy, right?
While everyone knows about date nights, they're a lot easier to talk about than to actually do. Still, there are lots of other ways to get closer to your spouse. Just ask these four couples, who have discovered how to revive the romance despite the many challenges of raising a family.
"I learned the power of touch."
Courtesy of Raidt's
Kate and Daniel Raidt
Married 6 years
Parents of Conley, 6, and Bodie, 3
Kate: Four or five times a week we make a point of snuggling on the couch after putting the kids to bed. We used to sit in separate chairs and read the paper. Then I read The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. It made me realize that Daniel feels love through touch, so we needed to sit closer to each other.
Daniel: It's true. Back rubs, massages, and cuddling make me feel appreciated. Kate, on the other hand, responds more to affectionate and positive words. In the past, this created some tension between us because I didn't get the physical contact I need, and I tried to show Kate my love through touch instead of compliments, which are what she needs.
Kate: We were speaking different languages. So one evening I sidled up to Daniel in his "man chair," and his face lit up right away. It created this intimate moment where it was just the two of us. Since then, I've noticed that he responds much better to talking about finances or work issues when I'm holding his hand or rubbing his back rather than sitting across the room.
Daniel: The fact that Kate took the time to understand me better makes us feel closer than ever. It's also inspired me to give her what she needs to feel cherished. Now I'll say, "Thanks for cooking dinner, honey," or "I'm proud of the hard work you've done this week." Kate doesn't need gifts, but she likes to be recognized for what she contributes to our marriage, family, and kids.
"We connect through music."
Courtesy of Perry's
Shayla and Alan Perry
Married 8 years
Corning, New York
Parents of Chris, 13; Nathan, 8; Kyle, 5; and Alyssa, 3
Shayla: After the kids are asleep, we grab some beers, light candles, and surf the music stations on TV. We'll dance and sing along to our favorites and reminisce about where we were and what we were doing when we first heard a song. It's a fun way to learn more about each other, and it also reminds us how much we share in common.
Alan: Sometimes they'll play a song that one of us doesn't like. Shayla can't stand the Retro Rock channel, but we'll keep it on as I try to explain why I like it. I love that she's willing to listen in order to understand me better.
Shayla: I find it amazing how much you can find out about a person from his taste in music.
Alan: One of my favorite songs is "Falls on Me," by Fuel. The chorus ("All you dream/Falls on me, it falls on me/And your beautiful sky/The light you bring/Falls on me, it falls on me") reminds me of my responsibilities as a husband and father. After we've finished our musical date, I feel closer to Shayla. The fact that we still enjoy being together gives me confidence in our marriage.
"We put our affection on paper."
Courtesy of Begun's
Caren and Daniel Begun
Married 8 years
Jersey City, New Jersey
Parents of Sarah, 2
Caren: It started seven years ago when we were testing a new printer. Daniel printed "I love you" and then hid the paper for me to find. Since then, we've concealed this same "love note" in the house, in our car, and all across the country whenever we travel.
Daniel: I like surprising Caren, and it lets her know I'm thinking of her. We both have a lot of fun with it, though it's an escalating challenge to find unique places to stash the note that neither of us has thought of before.
Caren: I crack up when the hiding spot catches me off guard. One time Daniel taped the note to the inside of our toilet-seat cover (it was protected in a plastic baggy, thank goodness!). This simple, hilarious game has become a constant reminder of our mutual affection, which is a nice thing, since our life with a preschooler is so busy.
Daniel: My philosophy is you can't have love without laughter. I've been known to break into spontaneous dancing and make silly faces to amuse Caren. But the note is my greatest invention. My favorite memory was the time I mailed it to our new home, addressed to her. That way, it was the first piece of mail she received. Caren knew exactly what it was before she opened it. She just looked at me and smiled. We didn't exchange a single word, but we both felt an instant, powerful connection.
"We go on alphabet-themed dates."
Courtesy of Sokol's
Heather and Spencer Sokol
Married 14 years
Parents of Stacia, 13; Brenia, 8; and Lorelai, 5
Heather: Each month we plan a date that's based on a different letter of the alphabet, an idea I got from the book Alphabet Weekends: Love on the Road From A to Z, by Elizabeth Noble. For the letter C, we spent an afternoon at the local children's museum by ourselves. This gave us the opportunity to explore the exhibits our kids aren't crazy about, and it made us feel young again. We even rode the carousel together. For D, we spent "a day in downtown," in Indianapolis. I know alphabet dating sounds a bit goofy, but it gives us an excuse and an incentive to be together.
Spencer: When Heather first brought up the idea, I was skeptical. But I knew we needed to try something because the only time we ever spent as a couple was related to housework or the kids. Still, I was worried we'd spend more time planning dates than being together.
Heather: We had been so out of sync that Spencer didn't even share his concerns with me. But we dove in, desperate to try anything. Along the way, we've discovered that this exercise does involve planning, but in a good way. In between the dates, we plot out the next one as a couple. Even the elaborate plans -- like G for "getaway," when we drove to Chicago to see a musical comedy -- have been satisfying to pull off as a team. It's gratifying to come up with new ideas together, or even to revisit old ones. Next up is the letter M.
Spencer: The best part is getting to escape with Heather for a little while. Even if it's just a hike down a trail or a quick bite at a local dive, being able to get away from our responsibilities as parents without feeling guilty has been critical. We're now communicating better and laughing a lot more, and dating again has made for a lot of special moments.
Five Secrets of Still-Happy Couples
1. Praising their partner: Sixty-one percent of happy couples say their spouse makes them feel good about themselves, versus only 27 percent of moderately happy and unhappy couples.
2. Focusing on good sex, not lots of it: Three out of four happy couples are satisfied with their lovemaking, even if its frequency has diminished over time.
3. Keeping the faith: Among study couples who are happiest together, 96 percent of the wives and 92 percent of the husbands say the most crucial marriage expectation is this: "You should feel that your spouse would never hurt or deceive you."
4. Continuing to learn about each other's needs: Virtually all the contented couples in the study expressed that they know and understand their partner intimately -- not just daily routines and personal preferences, but what truly makes each other feel special.
5. Sharing their secrets: Half of all the happy couples say they regularly reveal secrets or share their feelings with their partner.
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Parents magazine.