Ten or so years ago, you met the man of your dreams. He’s attractive, he’s witty, and he’s got charm.
He’s also intelligent and good looking and he is free. And most important he likes you.
You go out dating and you both fall in love with each other. And the rest is history as they say.
Yes, in a way that is true for you too. The time of dating lasted only a short time before you both decided to move in together, and from there it was only a short 18 months until he proposed to you and you got married.
These first two or three years went by in a hurricane. A storm of feelings, adventures and great sex. You did great trips overseas and made love on the beach in Bali.
Now, seven years after the wedding and honeymoon you sit with two children age 6 and 3 and pregnant with the third. But despite having everything you supposedly should want, you have the distinct, undeniable feeling that something is missing – big time.
It seems like having children has somehow moved you further apart from each other instead of closer together. How can this be? He is a good father and does his share at home. And yet still, you both feel the loss of something important in your relationship.
So how do you not let your children become a problem in your relationship?
Children are the greatest source of joy and the greatest source of trouble for any relationship.
Wasn’t it difficult enough to get your two lives organised together, revolving around each other in harmony? Wasn’t it difficult enough to sort out the differences and preferences and habits in your day to day lives, without the introduction of small and sometimes unpredictable infants?
Now with two more little ones, your priorities have shifted.
To visualise this shift, I often ask my clients to draw a circle representing the 168 hours we have in a week and then fill out segments for work, sleep and all the other activities you do in a normal week. This list contains shopping, cooking, gym, friends, sex and me-time like reading, watching television or FaceBook.
Draw one circle for the time before children and make another one for the time now.
Let your partner do the same and then compare and discuss.
We normally see a shift for one of you (usually Mum) which shows a greater influence of work, sleep and caring for children, meaning that all of the other segments see movement and reduction as well. Often the segments of Gym, Me-Time and Sex end up shrinking (if not disappearing) due to one or both parties having to shift the way they spend their time.
When you compare your circles with those of your partner, you might also see that for him the shifts from before children to now are not as dramatic as they may have been for you. In other words, he might experience a normal week that isn’t dramatically different to how his week looked before, which is hard to understand because for you, the world feels like it’s been turned upside down. (Please see also my blog-article on this topic)
Stress and Problems
The difference between what our expectations are and the reality of what we get can cause almighty stress. The bigger the gap between your expectations and reality, the greater the stress.
You can’t avoid the disappointment completely, but you can reduce the stress by verbalising it and talking about it.
If your expectation was that everything would just carry on as usual only with two or three little ones at your side, think again. Once you have children, life will never be the same. Children need attention, they need care and supervision, and they need guidelines and daily stimulation for learning and development.
What could you do to avoid that your children becoming a problem in your relationship?
- Show your partner that you love them
- Tell your partner that you love them
- Create the 168-hours circles as described above.
- Discuss what each of you would wish for your children. It is important to agree on some basics around childcare.
- Talk about your children as often as possible and compare individual experiences.
- Allow for each partner to spend time with your children alone
- Create time for each partner and each child have 1 on 1 time and do something special eg going to the movies.
- Engage babysitters regularly (if possible) and organise active appointments
- Avoid having arguments with your partner whilst your children are listening or watching.
- If possible, keep working after the children are born so that you have a regular outside stimulation. This is important mainly for your self-worth and earning your own money is a great feeling too.
- Divide the chores at home (eg. groceries, laundry, cooking and cleaning) so that you both have more time for each other. See the 168-hour circle.
- Agree on necessary boundaries for your children and for yourselves.
Maybe you want to grab a signed copy of my book to find more tips on how to create and maintain a loving, intimate and respectful relationship.
Every now and then I receive this very question from one of the participants in my online quiz. “How do I know it is over?” or “When is it time to leave?”
When I then look at the time they have been with their partner, more often than not I find they have been together for more than 15 years.
In other words, they know their partners very well, they know themselves well – you’d assume. Still they are living in a relationship which must be so unfulfilling that they think of leaving but are not quite sure.
And the difficulty here is, that the answer is not clear cut at all.
With your car as a comparison, finding the answer is easy. When you turn the key in the ignition and the only sound you hear is a clicking sound, then you know your car has run out of battery and you need someone to service your car or help you to get it started.
Has your relationship run out of battery?
Is there no response regardless of which way you turn the key?
Do you still love him/her? You’ve spent the last ten, fifteen or twenty years together. You know your partner better than you know yourself. You know their next move, their next sentence and you know their smell, their warmth and their mood.
I’ll ask again, do you still love him/her?
Is it love or just familiarity?
You know, there are three pillars that support your relationship. These are Quality Time, Talking and Sex/Intimacy. If one or more of these three pillars is permanently and irreparably gone from your relationship, the prognosis I’m afraid is not good.
Often times people see only the Sex/Intimacy pillar and forget that the Quality Time and Talking are equally important in your relationship.
So, back to the question: “When do you know it is over?”
Here are some indicators you can use to measure your own feelings and attitude towards your partner.
- Do you look forward to spending time alone with your partner of an evening or over weekends?
- Do you kiss before going to sleep/when you leave/when you come back?
- Do you want to have sex with your partner?
- Do you want to stay in each other’s arms after having sex?
- Is your partner one of your best friends?
- Do you trust your partner?
- Do you want to plan your next holiday with your partner?
- Do you want to share your daily events with your partner?
- Does your partner make you feel special?
If you have answered “no” to all or most of the questions above, you probably know the answer to the bigger question already.
Still please keep in mind, this is not a clear cut yes/no decision.
There are so many feelings involved, which is what makes finding an absolute answer so difficult.
You may find that your mind races to questions like “what’s next?” or “what will life look like next?”, which can distort your thinking from a standpoint based in fear or uncertainty and make you rush to find a solution.
Being in a relationship and living with someone is also about security.
So, if you decide that your relationship has no future, then your mind starts to race and anxiety can set in. We ask ourselves what will happen with our home, our children and our finances, because our safety and familiarity is in limbo.
That’s where a lot of people fall into a trap.
They don’t know how to keep their relationship going and at the same time they don’t know which way to turn or how to move on.
Many people in unhappy or even toxic relationships end up staying because they are uncertain of their future.
How I could help you…
Firstly I recommend to you to do the online quiz and look at your score and if possible, encourage your partner to do the same. Your results could give you a great starting ground for an honest conversation with your partner about what you both expect from your relationship, what is missing, and even how you could begin to rebuild the missing pillars.
Secondly, you could read my book and look at the many tips that might help your relationship to get back on track.
And thirdly I am offering you an obligation free conversation with me where we can find out whether and how I could help you come to a decision that you know, in your heart of hearts, is the right decision.
“Oh, no I can’t come, my wife wouldn’t like it…”
“Yes, I’d love to see you guys, but my husband does not have time…”
You want to be selfish from time to time and do something just for you.
Sure you want to spend as much time with your partner as possible. And through your different work-schedules there is already a big chunk of your week occupied – and you can’t be together.
Where are your own interests?
You want to be selfish from time to time and do something just for you, within limits of course.
You don’t want to do things that hurt your partner. It’s not about betraying your partner or cheating on them. It’s not about getting mindlessly drunk and do something stupid. It’s not about risking your life in the pursuit of your dreams.
It’s about pursuing your own goals and following your heart.
Maybe you always wanted to go on a meditation retreat and your partner does not want to come along. Discuss this with your partner and organise a time where it would work for all people involved. Obviously while you are away your partner needs to cover for you in terms of household chores and childcare.
If you want to do hiking and camping trip with your mates, do it. Again you should consult with your partner to make sure that your absence does not create havoc.
If you want to travel overseas and visit your friends or extended relatives, do it.
These adventures come at a price and as we all know, money is more important in a relationship than sex. Therefore, you also need to discuss with your partner the funding for your adventures. It is not always easy to find a mutual agreement on these things. Give it a try and follow your heart and let your goals not been destroyed by being in a relationship.
You need to be selfish sometimes.
By pursuing your own dreams you are happier and more fulfilled. You bring new ideas, thoughts and goals back into your relationship and you both can grow from there.
And there is a lot of reciprocity in this selfishness. Once your partner helped you to go after your dreams, they might want to explore something by themselves. Or you helped your partner to pursue their own dreams and hobbies – now you have the chance to do the same for yourself.
One of the most important things I found in any lasting relationship is growth. Together as a couple you are growing, and it is equally important for each individual to grow.
What you can do…
The next time you find yourself wondering whether you should do this or that and whether your partner would come along, do it. Tell your partner about your plans and do it.
You might be surprised against all odds, and find your partner wants to join you.
It could be something small, like watching a movie together. You both want to see the new James Bond flick but for some reason you can’t find the time together. Now one of your best friends is asking you to come along. Do you decline because of your partner? Or you talk to your partner and make sure they are not disappointed and you go with your friend.
Sometimes it can be difficult to find the right balance between pursuing your own goals and to coordinate adventures with your partner. And there is not the one-size-fits-all solution.
Again it is about clear communication and respect.
You want to make sure not to hurt your partner and at the same time you want to make sure not to sell out of your dreams.
As I said before, by pursuing your own goals and dreams you bring new ideas, insights and inspirations back into your relationship so that you both benefit from your adventures.
In my relationship quiz, I enable participants to ask their daunting, private questions at the end. One very common question that is posed to be, time and time again, is based around the different communication styles between men and women. Just like this one “Why can’t he communicate?”
Let’s unravel and analyse this question a bit. By the way, is it a question or an accusation?
For the moment, let’s take as a question.
First of all, I am sure that he can communicate very well, because you are in a relationship with him and he must have clearly communicated to you at one time that he loves you and that he wants to be with you.
I am also sure that each day he is able to communicate with his peers, his work colleagues and also any shop assistant or waiter when he wants something.
Therefore, maybe the question must read “Why does he not communicate?”
Again, assuming that he is communicating throughout the day with several people in an efficient way, the question might be: “Why does he not communicate with me?”
I know it looks ridiculous to analyse this question to such a deep extent, but bear with me because we are coming to a very important junction in a moment.
Back to that question – Is he really not communicating with you? I’m sure he can articulate very well if he wants to use the bathroom or if he wants to watch television, if he wants to have something to eat or if he wants to have sex.
So, it’s not about whether he can or can’t communicate with you.
The specific question or statement from the participants of my quiz should read.
“My husband does not communicate with me over the things that I find important”.
We could take these questions as they are, or we can break them down to their very true meaning, and read them as this obvious statement above, because here is another very important distinction:
It is in your perception that he does not communicate. Maybe in his view he is communicating with you?
To make it even more clear the statement should read:
“I would like to communicate with my partner over things that are important to me.”
I know it may feel like splitting hairs, but when you reframe the statement, you see that there is a big difference between the frustration and resignation in the quote “Why can’t he communicate?” and the statement “I would like to communicate with my partner over things that are important to me.”
The former is a nagging accusation and does not lead anywhere.
The latter is a positive and goal-oriented statement that we can work with.
So, what could you do when you find yourself totally frustrated with a partner
who does not – at least in your view– communicate?
You want to speak with your partner about an important topic and you notice that he does not initiate, react or respond to you.
You might want to consider a few points here, before the situation escalates into an argument:
- How important is it for you (or anyone else involved) to speak about this topic now?
- How important is this topic for you?
- How important is this topic for him?
- Where is his mind right now?
- How tired is he, how tired are you?
With asking yourself these questions, you can assess the situation better and think about your next step.
Depending on importance and urgency of the conversation, you can then turn to your partner and say in a neutral tone – neither demanding nor nagging: “Look honey, I really want to speak to you about this xyz, and I see that you don’t have the time right now. I need to talk to you about xyz because it has an impact on my abc. When would be a good time for you to talk about it?”
By stating your topic, and reiterating why it is important to you, you are acknowledging that he might be in a different headspace and you are giving him the option to decide when it would be a good time. You are also giving him time to prepare his emotions and response, without being caught off guard.
You see it is all about respecting the other person and their model of the world.
And by the way, the above scenario does play out in the same way with reversed roles of male and female. It is not always men who can’t communicate. 🙂
You might want to grab a copy of my book, “Why Money Is More Important Than Sex”. There you find more tips on maintaining a loving, intimate and respectful relationship.
“Anyone who stops getting better has stopped being good.”
Countless companies have this motto pinned to the wall.
This shall serve as a constant reminder that you need to refine, improve and optimise as often as possible, if not constantly.
Does this motto serve for relationships as well?
In a way I think it does.
You see the biggest danger for a relationship is routine, the knowing that it will be the same tomorrow. But why is that? We want certainty, do we not?
Yes, we want certainty but it could be argued that we want an equal amount of uncertainty in our lives too.
Remember the time you were dating your partner. You would go out together. You’d feel the spark in each other’s company. You’d get butterflies in your stomach. Your first kiss felt electric.
Since then you have moved in together. You have built your home together. Everything is perfect and you are happy and grateful that you met the soulmate you were always searching for.
And now the routine sets in.
You wake up at the same time every morning. You go to work. You come home. You have dinner together. You watch television together. You go to bed together and every now and then you have sex.
You have created your little world together. It’s perfect, isn’t it?
I need to warn you, the biggest danger to your relationship is this routine.
You take each other for granted. The days (and nights) are predictable. One week looks like the next and last month was just like the month before.
“But that’s exactly what I want!” I hear you say.
And yes, you are right, to a certain extent we all want the predictability, the security and the routine.
Yet at the same time, we all want the unpredictable surprises, we want the spark of adrenaline and we want something unknown.
According to Anthony Robbins there are six human needs we all want to see fulfilled: Certainty, Uncertainty, Love & Connection, Significance, Growth, and Contribution. I’m not going into each of these six in this article, but it is interesting to note that even Anthony Robbins acknowledges our NEED for both certainty AND uncertainty. It almost seems contradictory, and herein lies the problem.
The danger with ‘Routine’ is that the next stage after that is ‘Boredom’, where couples then start to drift apart.
So what can you do to stop Routine from creeping in?
There are a couple of simple ways to bring the spark back, or even better to never lose it.
The best thing you can do is to have regular Active Appointments with your partner. This is where you and your partner find a time and date to go out together and do something special. It could be a walk through the neighbourhood in the moonlight, it could be a quiet dinner at a local restaurant, going to the movies or a stroll on the beach.
The important thing is to allocate time for just the two of you and to go out, to leave the normality of your home behind. Ideally you would not even take your mobile phones – you don’t need distractions when you are actively spending time with your partner.
Another great way to break through the routine is to surprise your partner with something unexpected. A bunch of flowers or box of chocolates on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon. Or cooking their favourite dinner instead of watching television. You could organise an active appointment by going out for breakfast one day during the week and start work later that day.
Remember, it is the little things that make a big difference.
By doing something unexpected, your neural system in your brain is challenged. Your brain is building new connections and gets on higher alert. Your pulse quickens and your whole body is on alert.
We human needs these sparks to make our life interesting and exciting.
Write your partner a love-letter and send it by post.
Organise a weekend away to a romantic getaway.
Go camping or for a bike ride together.
Anything that shows your partner “let’s do something out of the ordinary” helps your relationship to stay young and vibrant.
If you haven’t done it, I urge you to do the relationship quiz and find out whether your relationship is in the Routine stage.