| July 23, 2012

Between kids, jobs and homework, do you ever feel like you are putting your marriage on the back burner? Therapist M. Gary Neuman tells one reader how to get things back on track.

Question: My husband and I have been married for 14 years, have three children (each one in school) and are so overwhelmed. Between shuttling the kids around and helping with their homework, I feel like my marriage is non-existent. My husband tells me it’s normal at this stage in our life, but my mother tells me to do something about it. Where do I begin?

Answer: First of all, listen to your mother. That is not to say that your husband is not right — it is normal. However, this “stage” called child rearing doesn’t end for many years to come, if ever. Couples like yourselves, who plan to wait until the kids are older to find time to spend together, find that they have become so emotionally separated that repairing the marriage feels almost impossible.

In my book "Connect to Love," I focus on my research which shows that couples who spend an average of over 30 minutes a day talking to each other have a significantly higher rate of happiness than those who spend less time. This means you have to get the younger ones settled in bed and then explain to the older ones, if they’re still up, that Mom and Dad are spending some uninterrupted time together. If you can’t accomplish this in any common area of the home, go into your bedroom and close the door. You have to create some secluded space for your couplehood. Turn off your cellphones and every other distraction for 45 minutes.

Plan for this time to be relaxing — have some tea or a drink, catch up. At first, you may feel pressure to discuss stressful things that you feel you never have a chance to discuss. Avoid this and instead get back to chatting, catching up on your day, relaxing with each other. If you can keep this 45-minute period going for four nights per week, you’ll be on the way to reconnecting. Soon, you’ll be thinking during your day about interesting things that you’d like to lock away and discuss that evening with your spouse.

Next, set up a date night — the same night each week. Arrange for a babysitter to come on those nights, no matter what, so she’ll be there whether or not you’re too tired to go out. This will help you resist the urge to cancel the date. On your date night, spend a minimum of two hours alone with each other and DO something — and not always the dinner-and-a-movie routine. Check local listings and find events or interesting places to go. Avoid the phone calls from children. Don’t talk about kids, money and work on your date; get back to conversations that aren’t always about stress and “have to’s.”

It’s easy to have “no time for marriage.” What is really happening, though, is that you’re finding time for everything else that is a pressing need and then find yourself with no gas left in the tank for your non-pressing need — marriage. Keep that up and it’ll become a pressing need soon enough, either in the counselor's or attorney’s office.

Successful couples don’t have any magic formula and aren’t simply better matched. Successful couples keep their eye on the prize — a loving relationship — and are constantly working to nourish it with enough time and love so that it can always continue to grow.