Kids are a joy. Our lives are made infinitely better by their presence. Ha ha ha! Sorry, we couldn’t keep a straight face there. Listen: we love our kids more than anything and many parts of our lives are infinitely better. Other parts, however, well…not so much. Kids are little incendiary grenades that burn down all sorts of previously constructed dynamics.
Take your relationship. After kids, marriage is different. It just is. Convince yourself this won’t be — or isn’t — the case and you’re in for a world of trouble. It’s simple math: kids require time and that time is subtracted from other places. Understand this, however, and you can adapt, stay nimble. That said, there are several major ways, which you’ll see below, that kids can not just disrupt but also harm a marriage. Chances are, we’re all guilty of some of these infractions. That’s okay (kids, man). It’s how we react and adapt to them after we recognize them that matters.
They’re the Only Priority
If you’re giving every second of every day to your kids, what do you think is going to be left over when day is done? Not much. Parenting is a job, yes, but that doesn’t mean it always has to feel like it. You need to take a step back and figure out how you can lighten the load and give back to both yourself and your partner. Are there family members you can ask to pitch in and watch the kids? Is there a neighbor you trust who you can carpool with to give you a morning off? Can you perform a little activity triage and figure out which activities can be cut from the calendar? “Your kids will be just fine if they have a night off,” says sexologist Dr. Jess O’Reilly, “and you’ll likely find that the reprieve from a busy schedule will give you a chance to catch up on rest and self-care.”
They’re the Heads of the Household
We all want to make our kids happy, but there comes a point where that all that energy you’re pouring into keeping your kids smiling is depleting energy from yourself. Letting your kids rule the roost will create division in the household and will also lead to long-term behavior problems with your kids. Accept that you’re not perfect and that your kid will survive if things aren’t always exactly the way they like it. “Every parent makes mistakes,” says Caleb Backe, a wellness expert with Maple Holistics, “and it’s not the end of the world if you forget to send your child dressed in red on ‘red day.’”
They Divide You
Kids are manipulative little creatures. And if they have any sense that one parent can be more easily swayed than the other, then they’ll lean on that parent until they break. Over time, this will wear down the bond between you and your spouse. You have to keep your wits about you and present a united front to your children. If not, cracks in the armor will be exploited very quickly. “My mother used to say to me, ‘I am not your friend, I am your mother,’ says relationship expert Bonnie Winston. “She would not allow me to smoke, use foul language, or not do my homework. And my dad went along with the rules they created, because they stuck together as a team.”
You’re too Invested in Their Accomplishments
Many parents receive a vicarious thrill from their children’s victories. And, in small doses, that can be okay. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating your kids’ achievements, but when they become tied in to your own sense of self-worth, it can reshape your sense of identity and erode the attention you devote to your partner. “It’s important to love and be proud of your children,” says, “but you’ll be more fulfilled in life and in love if you focus on and derive benefits from multiple sources – including your marriage.
You Only Talk About Your Kids
As parents, it can be hard to not always talk about your kids. But you need to try very hard to make that not the case. Because if you never talk about anything else when you go out by yourselves, then you’re not really a couple in that moment. You’re just co-parenting and you’ve lost the connection that brought you together in the first place. You have to make the time to enjoy each other’s company and relate to each other as a couple, not just two people saddled with the same responsibilities. “If you’re feeling like co-parents, try changing one thing about the way you interact starting today,” says O’Reilly. “For example, can you change your greetings and goodbyes. Can you wrap your arms around your partner when they walk in the door? Can you slip them tongue when you say goodbye in the morning? Or could you take 30 seconds to hold them, smell them, and feel their skin against yours when you wake up in the morning? Small changes can produce big rewards.”
They Are Part of Every Routine
When you’re brushing your teeth, getting into bed with your spouse, or (you know it’s happened) using the bathroom, are the kids there? This is a potential trouble spot in your marriage. While it’s understood and even expected that your kids are going to be underfoot for at least part of the time, when they start to get in the way of every little moment or opportunity you and your spouse have to connect, it can prove harmful to a marriage. In order to combat this, couples need to communicate, from having open discussions about privacy to even developing a private, shared language where they can communicate their frustrations to each other so that, even when they’re being interrupted, the connection remains intact. “The foundation of any good relationship is shared goals, rules, traditions, language,” says Carrie Krawiec, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Birmingham Maple Clinic. “When a child inserts themselves in a couples routine, homeostasis is upset. Couples need to make sure that boundaries are being respected.”
Read More: Happy Marriage Advice: 11 Rituals That Keep Our Relationship Strong
They Create Drama That You Feed Into
Kids can be fatally addicted to creating drama in the household, doing whatever they need to in order to become the center of attention. They can also be disruptive, whining and throwing tantrums until they get their way. Additionally, they can constantly make jokes, play pranks and seek out ways to draw more attention to themselves. And all that attention they’re drawing is sucking energy and happiness out of you and your spouse. This is where you and your partner have to hold the line and not give in to your kids’ antics. You can’t encourage the behavior, nor can you distance yourself from it and leave your partner to clean up the mess. This is where teamwork is crucial. “Both parents must respect the family unit,” says Kimberly Friedmutter, author of Subconscious Power–Use Your Inner Mind to Create the Life You’ve Always Wanted. “Drama, strong personalities, and disruptors may try to upset the balance of the stable parental relationship but hold firm and keep your totem pole erect.”
They Are Always Between You. Literally.
This might seem like a small thing, but over time it can create a large gap. If, every time you and your family watch a movie, go see a school play, or even out to eat, the kids are between you and your spouse, that can negatively impact your relationship. Even something as simple as sitting in the backseat with your child while your partner drives can be a problem. “What happens is that even when the then-infant is now six years old, the child and mother may be both conditioned to follow the seating pattern,” says Dr. Jocelyn Markowicz, a Michigan-based psychologist. “Now the husband no longer expects his wife to sit next to him while driving. He no longer expects to have hand-holding or adult conversation with his wife. Intimacy has changed.”
Your Life is Over-Scheduled
Of course the needs of your children have to take some precedence in a marriage. But if every second of the day is built around their school schedules, playdates, sports and other activities, then your marriage is going to suffer. From an emotional perspective, it might feel right that your kids are at the center of your marriage, but that’s a mistake. When you and your spouse are at the center, then the kids and everything else will fall into place. “Talk to your spouse about how you would like things to look,” says professional counselor Heidi McBain, “and start to set boundaries with your kids so you can start to slowly carve out alone time for you and your partner again.”