Some time ago, a young man sat in my office and said, “I’ve lost my wife.” “Do you mean she’s left you?” I asked.

“Oh no, nothing like that. I mean that our baby’s become the center of her life. It’s like she is now a mother instead of a wife. I know the baby takes much of her energy, but how do we keep our marriage alive? I really do feel like I’ve lost my wife.”

The reality is,  after you have a child, your marriage will not thrive on autopilot. But don’t buy into the idea “there is just no time for us!”

Marriages either grow or regress. They never stand still. If you decide now to prioritize your marriage, you will do your child a great service.

Through years of counseling hundreds of couples, we’ve learned some things on how couples can grow their marriage after a baby comes.

Communication: marriage oxygen

Talking and listening — it seems so simple. When I know what my wife thinks, what she’s experienced today, and how she feels, I am better able to help and encourage her. But I will never know what’s going on inside her unless she talks — and I listen. Nor will she know my thoughts and feelings unless I reveal them by talking, and she chooses to listen.

That’s why I recommend a “daily sharing time” in which you sit down and listen to each other. It may be only 15 minutes, but at least you are checking in with each other daily. After this daily sharing, ask each other, “What can I do to help you?” After all, this is what marriage is all about: a husband and wife helping each other reach their potential for good in the world.

Missing each other emotionally

We need to feel loved by our spouse. However, even when we are sincere in our love, we may miss each other emotionally because we have different love languages.Your husband may be expressing his love by “acts of service,” while your love language may be “quality time.” So he does all kind of things to help you and is shocked when you say, “I just don’t feel like you love me.”

Acknowledging your own selfishness, asking forgiveness, and then loving each other in the right love language create a positive emotional atmosphere in your marriage. Life is much easier to process when the two of you feel loved and encouraged by each other. This does not mean you will be perfect, but when you love each other, you will also apologize when you fail. I still sometimes say and do things that are hurtful. When I realize that I have hurt my wife, I also am pained. Don’t think that the passing of time will heal a fracture caused by hurtful behavior. Healing comes when the offender apologizes and the offended forgives.

Resolving conflicts

There are two key elements in resolving conflicts in a healthy manner. First, listen and try to understand the other person’s position — not only what they think but what they feel. Try to put yourself in their shoes and look at the world through their eyes. Given their personality and what they perceive to be the facts, can you understand how they might think what they think and feel what they feel? It is not that hard if you try. Then, express understanding. One of the most powerful things you can say, after listening, is “I can see how what you are saying makes sense.” (And it always does make sense in their head.) When you say this, you are no longer the enemy but a friend who understands.

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Then you can say, “Let me tell you how I’m looking at it, and see if you can understand my perspective.” If your spouse listens with a view to understanding, he/she may also say, “I think I see where you are coming from and it makes sense. So how can we solve this?” Now you can focus on looking for a solution rather than winning an argument.

You may never agree on how to load a dishwasher, but you can accept each other’s method without getting bent out of shape.

Some issues will remain differences for a lifetime, but they need not be divisive. You may never agree on how to load a dishwasher, but you can accept each other’s method without getting bent out of shape. You may never agree on how to squeeze the toothpaste — middle or bottom — but you can agree to get two tubes and each squeezes it their own way. Personality differences will likely not change. So adjust to each other’s patterns. Focus on the positive traits and minimize the things that irritate you. Life is too short to let your differences divide you.

Flirting, dating and more

Flirt! Do you remember how you flirted when you were dating? If so, you might imagine that you are dating again.

Date! In his book 52 Uncommon Dates, Randy Southern challenges couples to prioritize their married dating life. Whether you use this book or come up with your own date ideas, if you regularly prioritize date time, you’ll get great mileage out of dating that can help draw you closer together emotionally and physically. When the baby comes, you will need to find family or friends who will keep careful watch over the child so you can have a little time for each other. When the baby is an infant, you may have shorter dates, but as the child gets older, you can have extended dates.

Get physical! Little touches throughout the day — hugs, kisses, and handholding — can be reminders that you value each other. These are especially meaningful to the spouse whose primary love language is physical touch. Certainly a healthy sex life draws a couple emotionally closer together, but nonsexual touches are equally important for growing a healthy marriage.

Get away! Even if it’s only one night at a nice hotel or bed and breakfast, it can do wonders for your marriage. There is something about being together out of the house that invigorates the relationship.

Take care of yourself. Couples with young children can easily get caught up in the busyness of life and have little time for self-care. Keeping yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy is important not only for you, but for your marriage. What are your felt needs? Where do you need to give attention to yourself? What is available in your community that may help you? Many churches offer events that provide childcare so mothers can relax knowing that their child is in good hands while they focus on some activity that will enhance their health.

If you want to have a thriving marriage, you must look for, create, and take every opportunity to enhance your relationship, even when — and especially when — you have your children. By being proactive, you’ll have more control over your relationship than if you merely operate on “autopilot.”

Taken from Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Became Parents by Gary Chapman and Shannon Warden (©2016), Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

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