“We thought having kids would bring us closer together, but I feel so distant.” As a counselor who works with married couples, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard mothers and fathers share that sentiment.

If you feel that way, take some comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Research shows that satisfaction within marriages is at its lowest point during the first several years of parenthood.

Before the kids arrive, couples envision how wonderful life will be. They’ll decorate a charming nursery, have all those cute baby clothes, cuddle together on a blanket, and delight to every coo and gurgle coming from the most beautiful child God ever created. But after a few months of sleepless nights, mysterious fevers, frantic diaper changes, and poorly timed (and aimed ) spit-ups, stress replaces bliss. Add in second-guessing by grandparents, friends, and relatives, balancing the new responsibilities with jobs and other activities, and discovering that formula and diapers can be ridiculously expensive, and the energy for cuddling just seems to dissipate.

It usually gets a bit easier after the first few months, but it’s rarely the wonderland the couple imagined. When we hear the cries for the fifth time since midnight, kindness isn’t usually our immediate reaction. Illnesses, tantrums, and all the challenges that come with a little one can fray a marriage, especially when both parties are already stressed and exhausted. If they trigger arguments, grudges, and bringing up past misdeeds, the relationship can suffer lasting damage.

Having children consumes your time, but it’s up to you to keep it from consuming your marriage. Paying attention to your relationship isn’t being selfish or neglecting your little ones. In fact, being intentional toward each other will help you become better parents. Having a strong, loving marriage is one of the best things you can do for your children. Your marriage will be the yardstick they use to measure their own relationships. So if they see love, affection, caring, fun, silliness, and a willingness to make time for each other, that’s what they’ll expect from a future spouse.

You know why dating your spouse was so enjoyable? Everything was new. You explored the world together and saw familiar places through new eyes. You remember the great movies, delightful desserts, and scenic walks because you shared them. Guess what? You don’t have to stop doing that just because you have kids. Find new interests and new places. Surprise each other with activities you both enjoy. And yes, it’s okay to leave the little ones with Grandma while you take off on a romantic weekend. It’s good for the kids, too.

If you feel like it’s a lost cause and you’ve lost the magic, call us and ask for help. You’re not the first couple to feel that way, and you won’t be the last. We’ll reintroduce you to each other.

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