Parents

5 Ways to Connect With Your Spouse When Kids Own Your Lives

My husband and I are in a long-distance relationship, even though we live in the same house.
10/02/2016 09:38pm ET | Updated November 28, 2016
Angela Elson
Dinner is served.

My husband and I are in a long-distance relationship, even though we live in the same house.

We used to begin our mornings pressed together in a tangle of limbs, drifting in and out of blissful dozing, his fingers twirling my hair. But now when I roll over, I find sprawled between us our three-year-old who crept in between the hours of 4 and 6.

Good morning, I mouth to my husband so as not to wake the stowaway. I miss you.

I miss you too, he whispers back as the baby sings out from the other room, which rouses the 3-year-old, who immediately asks for breakfast 57 times—even as I’m making it, even as she’s eating it, even after it’s gone.

Husband and I spend our mornings like strangers in a Starbucks, stepping out of each other’s way at the counter, silently taking turns with the milk, communicating in knowing smiles and rolled eyes as the baby shrieks over a rattle and the three-year-old bellows something about Little Bunny Foo-Foo scooping up an iPad.

Like many parents, he and I don’t always have the time, ability, or energy to talk, which would be depressing if we hadn’t developed these ways to work around it.

The All-Day Facebook Message

The key to any good relationship is communication. But the problem with having children is that your conversation topics are usually limited to whatever they want to talk about—which, in my house, is farts and zoo animals.

To maintain adult banter, Husband and I have started Facebook messaging at our desk jobs, which allows us to carry a conversation between meetings and during breaks from Excel spreadsheets.

I wouldn’t say these exchanges are often particularly meaningful. We swap jokes, trade gifs, make grocery lists, coordinate logistics, complain, commiserate, encourage, flirt, and fight. But still these chats allow us to preserve some semblance of intellectual and emotional connection before closing down our laptops and going home to talk about farts and zoo animals.

The Afternoon Date

Date nights are great—assuming you can swing them. Babysitters can be expensive, and by the time it’s dark enough to go out for a romantic dinner, I’m usually too tired to enjoy it.

That’s why my husband and I have perfected the Saturday afternoon date. The babysitter comes over from 4:30-6:30 while Husband and I step out for happy hour and early dinner.

We come home to find that our children, exhausted by the novelty of having someone new with whom to discuss farts and zoo animals, are easily put to bed, leaving us free to continue a quiet evening at home.

Going out in the afternoon means we are energetic enough to enjoy it and ensures I get my money’s worth out of the babysitter (whom I would be paying to watch TV while my kids slept if we went out later).

The Mutual Housebound Hobby

One would hope that a married couple already has shared interests, but developing a few new ones keeps being placed under house arrest after seven o’clock every night refreshing.

Husband and I both fancy beer, so we enjoy finding ones we haven’t tried and comparing notes. We’ve also recently gotten into cooking Crock Pot meals together and bickering about the right way to dice onions. If this sounds pathetically boring, it’s because parenthood often is. Admitting that gives us the ability to say, “Hey, we should do something mundane in an attempt to spice up our lives.”

Have a cheese tasting. Watch all the Rocky movies back to back and discuss our favorite. Play cards. Things you’d never imagine yourself doing before you had kids suddenly don’t seem so awful when the alternative is watching House Hunters for the eighth night in a row.

The Jailbreak

It seems counterintuitive that being apart might bring you closer together, but Husband and I make sure that in staying connected to each other we also encourage staying connected to ourselves.

This can mean scheduling time for me to write or go drink beer with my friends, or for Husband to garden kid-free or go drink beer with his friends. But sometimes it also means kicking the other out of the house when he or she is on the verge of foaming at the mouth.

Parenting can be tiring: giving the other space to recharge ensures that the time we do spend together is less likely to be plagued by the desire to tune out while scrolling zombie-like through Facebook.

The Guilt-Free Pizza Night

Every now and then (and it’s usually on a Friday), Husband and I order Domino’s, park the kids in front of the TV, enjoy a quiet dinner by ourselves in the other room, and feel absolutely no guilt about it.

This is hard to forgive in an Internet society full of advice on how to obsess about the happiness and wellbeing of your children. But sometimes you have to be bad parents in order to be good spouses, because being good spouses in turn makes you good parents.

Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves on the mornings we shoo the three-year-old off to forage for her own breakfast. The baby babbles in his dark nursery; from the kitchen, his sister is prattling about farts.

Eventually we’ll get up and start our day, but for a brief, much-needed moment, Husband twirls my hair in his fingers, and we doze.