In the real world of stepparenting, marriage often comes in fourth place—after kids, stepkids, ex-spouse feuds, and mere survival. And having a marriage-centered household is about as likely as one of your stepkids choosing you for his or her “The Person I Most Admire” report in junior high.

I know it’s hard, but I have to be the one to tell you: The cold, hard truth is that if we want to do more than just eke out an existence and hold on tight until the last kid leaves the house, we must make our marriages a priority, not an afterthought. In fact, I want an awesome marriage. I want to spend a lot of time and a lot of energy loving on this man (and getting loved back).

One of the huge (and sometimes only) benefits of a blended family is that occasionally other people (the other parent, or possibly other relatives like your husband’s ex in-laws) will take your child. When my husband, Roger, and I were first married, this didn’t happen often, and I can’t think of a time when both of the other parents had all our kids at the same time. But sometimes Roger and I were still able to get out the house and leave the older kids in charge so that we could have dinner, see a movie, or just run errands together.

My friend Tina and her husband set up their master bedroom like a B and B. They have a mini fridge stocked with fancy water and sodas, chocolates, and cheese and crackers. They have Amazon Instant Video, and the best sheets they can afford. They call it their “retreat center,” and the kids know that when the Do Not Disturb sign is up, they better not be knocking unless the house, or their sister, is on fire. About three times a week, Tina and her husband hang the sign on the bedroom door and just enjoy each other’s company.

Roger and I found that the best time for us to connect was at lunchtime. We would each drive about halfway (around ten minutes) and have our alone dates at a dive Mexican restaurant or at a food truck at the park.

How can you and your man get some alone time? Is there another blended family with whom you can swap some babysitting? Can you schedule a playdate or sleepover with all your kids on the same night? Can you invite another couple over and put all the kids down so you can have some grownup time? After all the kids have gone to bed (or the older kids are settled for the night), can you set some time aside just for you and your husband?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Curl up on the couch with your spouse and watch a favorite movie together (or just part of the movie each night over several nights).
  • Have ice cream outside under the stars.
  • Dance in your living room.
  • Play a board game at the kitchen table.
  • Go for a long walk (if you have older kids).

Here are some other marriage enhancing things you can do today to make life better for everyone in your home:

Find some blended-family mentors. I wish (oh, how I wish) Roger and I had found mentors in the stepparenting area sooner rather than later. Not just for the sake of our kids, but for the sake of our marriage.

f your church doesn’t have a blended-family support group, then find another place that does. If you can’t find a group, then start asking around at your own church. Find a family who has been doing this longer than you have, and ask them out to coffee or dinner. These people are your shortcut to a better marriage. When you confess that you’ve fought over the silliest thing (the carpool schedule, the kids’ toothbrush habits, and so on), they will get it and possibly be able to top your silliest of arguments with some of their own.

There is some value in the blended-family world in being able to say, “Me, too!” or better yet, “Us, too!”

Marital check-ins are critical. Check in with each other. Do it casually and have a plan for it. Roger and I have our once-a-week check-ins to go over schedules, talk about the kids, and more. But we also check in with each other to see how we’re doing.

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Honor your husband’s kids. You may think this is a piece of stepparenting advice, but really it’s one of the most important pieces of marital advice I could give you. Treat his kids with kindness and respect at all costs.

Think about this: If you are a mom, how do you feel when someone criticizes your kids? Even if it’s someone who loves them dearly, it still hurts to hear someone talk about them in that way. It’s the same for your husband.

When a man’s kids are under attack, he can’t help but want to come to their defense, even if the “attacker” is the woman he’s promised to spend his whole life with. If your husband is constantly having to divide his loyalties, it’s going to put a strain on your marriage, on him, and on you.

I have a few trusted friends—Erin, Michele, Susy, and Cheri—with whom I share all my “mom stuff.” We pray for each other’s kids. We talk about parenting, and in Michele’s case, stepparenting. It’s not that I’m keeping anything from Roger. I’m just careful not to dump every little thought on him, every time I have one.

I’m careful not to dump every little thought on my husband, every time I have one.

Not only does this make me a better mom, it makes me a better wife. Trying to get all my needs met by my husband is like trying to get all my shopping needs met by Target. Yep, Target can cover most areas (I mean who doesn’t love a store where you can buy a bicycle chain and a silky teddy all on the same floor?), but no one place is designed to meet 100 percent of my needs. And while my husband may be great at listening when I feel like complaining about my work situation, he may need a break from some of the kid drama.

So when I have hurt feelings, a small issue, or even—dare I say it—a gripe, I go to my girls and to God. My trusted girlfriends will hear me out, give me advice if I ask for it, and pray with me. Nine times out of ten, the issue is resolved without having to burden Roger with it.

Marriage is hard. And the more we can admit it and be humble in our need for a loving God and a loving spouse, the better chance we have for this hard work to pay off.

I know you can do this. You want to be married for a very long time to come, and part of that is getting super creative about how, in the midst of some everyday struggles, you can have an extraordinary love affair with your husband.

 Taken from But Im Not a Wicked Stepmother! copyright ©2015 by Kathi Lipp and Carol Boley. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

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