There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for ourchildren. But what if they take up so much time, your relationship with your partner is at risk?
You’ve cleared away the dinner plates, ironed a pile of clothes, bathed the younger kids, read them a story, appeased your moody teen, and now they’re all in bed.
Finally, you and your partner are free to spend some time together.
There’s just one problem — you’re both far too tired. So you go to bed and drift off without so much as a peck on the cheek.
A study by relationship charity OnePlusOne found that more than a quarter of couples wanted some time alone instead of having to constantly worry about their kids.
The Office of National Statistics found that 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce — the peak time being between
the fourth and eighth years of marriage, when couples are more likely to have young children.
Relationship expert and couples’ counsellor Denise Pickup says that children can drive you apart, and that remembering you’re half of a couple is ‘crucial’.
She says: ‘Parents are so busy these days — ensuring their child has everything they need, rushing off to after-school clubs and activities. This can be stressful and time-consuming.
‘Yet if your children see you and your partner talk, laugh, resolve problems together and have fun, that has a great impact on their future relationship wellbeing.’
Denise says that many couples come to her for counselling because they’ve invested too much time in their children, and not enough in their relationship.
‘Sometimes couples are vying for the child’s attention. Sometimes the child can be seen as the partner, friend, confidant — and this can be very damaging.’
Denise believes that our society has become so ‘child-centric’ that parents often feel guilty if they’re not just providing for their kids.
She says: ‘Some parents cannot cope with the anxiety of being a parent so they “provide” in physical ways, such as taking kids to every after-school club going or becoming a taxi service to teens.’
She says problems with giving too much attention to your child and not enough to your life as a couple can occur at any time.
Parents of young babies often encounter problems because the time just after the birth of a child can be very stressful.
‘All the care and devotion goes into the baby, but it’s important to remember you are a couple,’ Denise says. ‘Sex for parents isn’t often high on the agenda, so try timetabling this in if you can.’
Equally, the teenage years can also be difficult.
‘These are chaotic times,’ she says. ‘Teenagers are so absorbing that the couple don’t focus on their own identities.
‘I often see them come to my sessions and they are little more than exhausted taxi drivers. It’s the accumulation of years of financial, physical and emotional exhaustion.’
Denise says that parents can be so busy trying to give their child what they didn’t have, that they forget their own relationship.
‘Often parents are trying to give to their child what they missed out on,’ she says. ‘So, the parent who wasn’t allowed to take part in lots of extracurricular activities will ensure their child doesn’t miss out.
‘But living through your children is not a good idea, and maybe you yourself should take up the horse-riding lessons!’
Denise says that couples need to talk about their ‘contract’.
‘I recommend couples re-evaluate their “couple’s contract” every year,’ she says. ‘That means sitting down and talking about what your hopes are, your fears, what would make things better and where you want to be in five years.
‘I also recommend a healthy dose of “neglect”, meaning, allow your child to be bored. Don’t feel you have to fill every second of their day with activity.
‘There’s so much going on today for children, they don’t have time to think.
‘Boredom means a child has time to think and be creative — and gives you more time as a couple.’
Edited by Julie Cook
• Denise offers more advice at relationshipwork.co.uk
5 ways to stop parenthood driving you apart
Prioritise time together each week. This can either be a hobby or just some time out alone to talk.
Allow for a bit of ‘healthy neglect’. Allow your child to be bored, or let yourself have a messy house or for the washing to stack up.
Have a shared interest. One that your children can see you both enjoy.
Re-evaluate your ‘couple’s contract’ regularly. What are your hopes, fears and dreams?
Don’t give your child the role of partner or confidant. This can put far too much pressure on the child and lead to one or both of you vying for the child’s attention.
5 signs your children are taking over
1 Uneven schedules. Check your calendar. If the ratio is more than 3:1 child tasks to partner time, have a rethink. Timetable activities with your partner.
2 No time to connect with your partner. If you have less than 1.5 hours a day connection time together, you can expect to drift. Saying this, the quality of the connection is more important than the time.
3 No child-proof spaces. Do your kids have free access to bedroom or personal spaces? You need couple boundaries to give your children signs of a healthy relationship.
4 No longer having fun with your partner. If you’re spending all your time discussing admin and never have a laugh together, then it’s time to take action.
5 Time with your partner doesn’t recharge you. Instead of being together as a couple, you are exhausted and end up only talking about the kids.