Staying Connected in Chaos

The days of stress and angst I felt as a working mom of two children still resonate with me all these years later. There was never enough time. Getting out the door in the morning was a challenge. There were many sleepless nights, a churn of nannies, daycare viruses and a husband who traveled 4 months out of the year. My to-do list was never complete no matter how hard I tried to keep it all together. Sound familiar?

Looking back I ask myself how I got through it. The truth is I sweated a lot of the small stuff and while I adored my children, there was little time for the adults in the house who, over time, found it increasingly difficult to stay connected. Finding time to spend together felt like too much effort and so we took the easy route of making sure the kids were happy with the belief the rest would follow. I know now that’s not true.

The juggling act remains the same for many parents today who struggle with similar relationship stressors and the challenge of finding time for one another. As one couple said, it’s like standing in front of a tennis machine firing balls at you that never let up. And before you know it, the tension of being fired at results in arguments about “nothing” as both parents navigate their busy schedules. Here are some of the most common complaints I hear from my clients:

Not enough time – a day needs more than 24 hours
Exhaustion – who has the energy for sex?
Child and household responsibilities – division of labor
Co-parenting – managing parenting styles; getting on the same page
Isolation – I feel like I’m doing this all on my own; lack of support/community
Fear – judgment of self, family, others; fear of failure
Expectations – around sex and social life
Social Media – otherwise known as “50 ways to create a communication breakdown”

These factors (and more) can result in emotional distancing and stress felt not only by couples but by their children too. If you’re not happy, your kids will feel it. While children demand our attention and energy, the truth is that taking care of your relationship as partners is THE most important aspect of family life – it is the foundation of everything. You were a couple before the children arrived and you will be a couple when they leave. So, how do you make your relationship a priority in a busy household?

Strategies for Creating Greater Connection:

When couples come in to see me, they are often exhausted and at a loss to know how to reclaim control of their lives. While there is no silver bullet for easing the pace of family life, here are some daily practices and strategies that have helped my clients “keep the lid on”:

1. Send clear signals about what you need and how you feel. Don’t assume that your partner knows. Initiate discussions with “I”.

2. Be a team. Check in with each other. Discuss discipline and schedules. Play to your strengths and interests as a team.

3. Make time for each other regularly – Take walks, have a coffee – 10 minutes a day to share appreciation and accomplishments will go a long way.

4. Set boundaries – Learn to say no when you don’t have the time or interest to avoid resentment and frustration.

5. Plan ahead when you can – Identify priorities and focus on them first. This includes sex and a social life!

6. Let go of perfection – Don’t sweat the small stuff and keep it simple.

7. Identify a supportive network – Friends, family, co-workers, community.

8. Put the Oxygen Mask on Yourself First: Practice Self-Care – Stress management; physical activity; interests that feed your soul!

9. Enjoy your children and one another – Being fully present in the moment is key.

10. Acknowledge and celebrate the strengths of your relationship and one another – Express appreciation and gratitude.

11. Unplug to Reconnect – Put your phones down, put the iPad away and be fully present (eye contact!) when you have a conversation with your spouse.

Are you up for making your marriage a priority? It takes work, mindfulness, and commitment to making small changes in our daily lives. Choosing just one or two daily practices is a start to creating a greater connection.

Were these tips helpful to you? We’d love to hear from you!

Stuart, Mary, How to Combat Parenting Stress
Huff Post Parents, Marriage Stress: Husbands a Bigger Source of Stress than Kids for Nearly Half of Moms
Parent Magazine, How Children Effect Marriages Report

About the Author
Laurie Poole, MS, LPC

Laurie Poole, MS, LPC

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I am a licensed professional counselor with my Masters of Science in Counseling from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. I’m also a graduate of McGill University in Montreal. I received advanced practical training in couples and family therapy at UT Southwestern, where I spent five years in the Department of Psychiatry’s Family Studies Clinic working with diverse clients of all ages. In my previous life, I enjoyed a successful career in corporate marketing, communications and business development.

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