What Parenting Can Teach Us About Connecting
Article originally published on marriage.com
Feeling “disconnected” is probably the most common complaint I hear from couples with kids. They longingly describe the easy, “natural” connection they had with each other in the past and feel frustrated that their best efforts at date nights are still leaving them feeling distant from one another. Sound familiar?
While we (and by “we”, I mean every Hugh Grant rom-com out there), love to make connection seem like an effortless spark of magic, in real-life, connection is something you create. And foster. And nurture. It doesn’t just magically appear because you’re sitting across from each other over a plate of over-priced sushi.
You have to make it happen.
The good news is, you both already have what it takes to do so. In fact, you probably use your super-connection-building skills multiple times a day with your kiddos. One simple way you can rekindle your bond with your partner is to use the parenting skills you use every day—but with your partner. You might be surprised at how these four simple skills can help rekindle marriages and grow stronger relationships:
Stop, Listen and Care – Even if You Don’t Really Care
Your kid comes home from school in distress wanting to describe the minute details of how Debbie took their pink crayon and didn’t even really need the pink one because she already had a light pink crayon (the nerve!). What do you do? You stop what you’re doing, you listen to the story, you ask questions, you wonder why Debbie was being such a jerk, you empathize with your kid’s excruciating pain over said crayon. In short, you show them you care, not about the prized pink crayon, but about THEM and their experiences. It tells them they matter. Trouble is, we don’t always recognize that our partners need the same thing to feel connected. You may not be interested in listening to details of client meetings or a sales seminar. But if you put aside your feelings for a moment and give your full attention when your partner is speaking about something that that matters to them, you will help him or her feel loved. Not everyone is interested in the same things, and that’s perfectly okay. But giving your partner the time and attention to speak about things that matter to them is one step towards a more connected conversation.
Play, Imagine, and Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously
You might be exhausted at the end of the day, but you’ll still take the time to build a Lego airplane or have a pretend tea party with your child. Parents play with their children but too often they reserve playtime only for kids. Play is the gateway to empathy, compassion, and creativity—tools essential for true connection. Maybe it’s time for a playdate with your partner. Set aside time to be together with no agenda other than to indulge in whatever floats your boat, whether it’s sharing an ice cream sundae or buying some adult toys for the bedroom. It doesn’t have to be an ordeal- even a flirty text message during the day (or better yet a NSFW email) can change the tone and help infuse your relationship with renewed energy and vibrancy.
Find Joy in Their Joy
You may be amazed at your kids’ ability to get equally excited every time they hear the same damn Elmo song. What’s amazes you even more is your ability to get just as excited with them, for the 127thtime that day. Because while you may want to strangle that furry, red monster, you find joy in your child’s joy. What would it be like to do the same for your partner? To share in their passions and joys? It might be something more elaborate like planning a surprise date to the theater if your partner loves musicals. But it might also be a simple as taking a moment to see the spark in their eyes when they describe their latest D&D adventures and letting yourself feel the same tingle of joy you know they’re feeling.
This is the big one. The almighty ability to be present. Children do it seamlessly and, when you’re with them, you somehow manage to tell the mental to-do list to sit down for a minute while you engage in a robust tickle-fest. Yet, when partners sit together at the end of the day, the to-do list comes back up with a vengeance. Try to let that to-do list take a seat again (it’ll survive an hour of neglect), put down the phones, turn off the screens and let yourselves enjoy what can happen with your partner if you make space for the right-now together.
This may all seem easier said than done, but remember that these are tools you are have and practice everyday. With some intentionality, some mindfulness and permission to let yourself be in your feelings, the connection you’re yearning for with your partner can be within reach. But if you need help accessing it, think about couples therapy. It is an option that can help you uncover anything that may be undermining your connection to one another. In the meantime, I’m off to watch the episode with Elmo riding his tricycle while singing a song about riding his tricycle. Again.