It's common to feel that, after children, your relationship with your wife is not a priority. This makes sense. But you can do a lot to make it one again.
The progression goes something like this: Two people meet. They become so close that they marry and start a family. But kids have a way of disrupting, well, everything. One byproduct is the husband starts to feel nudged out, enough so that he feels like he has to win back the wife part of his partner.
Like most issues, there’s no one cause to being walled off. Part is hardwired maternal instinct. Part is the pleasure of being the go-to parent. Part is the idea that no one else, not even the other parent, can do the job as well. Inject that with mutual exhaustion and ceaseless guilt for not spending enough time with the kids, and there’s a potent recipe to shove the relationship down the priority scale.
And like most issues, there’s no all-purpose solution. The ultimate endpoint is more time together as a couple, but for any success to happen, the husband needs to keep one guiding principle in mind. “If you need to win her back, she’s far removed from self-care and couple care,” says Dr. Pat Love, relationship expert and co-author of You’re Tearing Us Apart.
But there is a course of action. It’s not one-sized or high-speed, and it has to be strategic and approached from various angles. Some steps are physical, some practical, but all are fundamentally emotional.
Your partner needs something. Don’t guess. Don’t assume. “You don’t have to know. You just have to ask,” says Nancy Levin McGrath, a couples therapist in Brookline, Massachusetts. And an always-solid question is, what can I do to help? “It’s about the sexiest thing a guy can say to a woman,” adds Dr. Steven Stosny, a couples expert and author of Empowered Love.
Expect that the answer won’t come quickly. People are generally reluctant to say what they want, and while men can focus on one issue, women tend to multitask and hold several thoughts/worries in their heads, which is hard to shut off, Stosny says. Gently persist, and two things will happen. You’ll hear a concrete suggestion of what would help, anything from taking over a chore to not texting so much during the day since it’s distracting. But even before that, you’re being supportive and understanding, and that itself gets you closer. “Her worst fear is isolation, and it’s not just being alone, but that no one else cares how you feel,” he says.
Put It on The Calendar
Having a family is essentially running a small business, so import an office skill and schedule a regular 30 minutes to be a couple, be it three-to-seven nights per week. Without the priority, it won’t happen, Levin McGrath says. There are no hard rules, but the goal is to look forward to the time, so keeping the agenda simple and banning talk about children, parents, and bills helps. Bringing in wine or some kind of treat helps even more, she says.
Making Actual Contact
Oxytocin is the bonding hormone. Women can produce it from talking, playing with their hair, and any kind of touch, particularly from children – they aren’t looking for it. Men have fewer options. Having an orgasm and holding a baby are two, Stosny says. The other is a full body embrace, and he recommends that couples hug, where they lean into each other, six times a day, for at least six seconds. “It revitalizes you and gives you more energy. It will make you feel closer,” he says.
Agree on the Paint Colors
A house project may seem unrelated, but, “Let her have her nest,” Stosny says. Go easy on countertop opinions and resist spitting out the commonly asked, How much will that cost? It’s logical and far from sinister, but it’s easy for a spouse to hear it as if she’s not worth it. She wants to build a safe space – pregnancy and young children increase the feeling. Set an overall budget, but with no line item limits. She’ll feel supported and trusted. “Her focus is on the security of the child, and the house looking like she wants makes her feel more secure,” he says.
Institute a Pause Button
Kids are needy and it’s easy to fall into a loop of providing endless attention. But it’s smart to build self-reliance and delayed gratification. It could be as simple as putting up a finger to not interrupt when the two of you are talking. Will it work the first time? Hardly, but with consistency, kids can understand what’s expected, and staying quiet for two seconds is a step towards respecting a closed bedroom door. While it gives the two of you separate time, it gives children the same, ultimately giving you even more, because, “They’ll be invited more places and have more friends,” Love says.
Take the Macro View
Winning your partner back might involve building your own resilience and accepting a delayed payoff. No matter how thoughtful your approach is, the childcare hole may be currently too deep. Exhaustion will rule. If so, be the stand-up, unbreakable partner by saying through words and actions, “What can I do to get us to January?” Love says. Until then, your partner knows that “I’m on your side. We’ll get through this,” she says.
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