How to Make Date Night Better With One Easy Shift

date night

How many articles have you read about the importance of having regular date nights with your husband?

From what I’ve seen, though, date night can backfire sometimes. Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re determined to have a “real date,” so you hire a sitter and make reservations at a nice restaurant or buy tickets for a special event. The cost of the evening, both in time and money, weighs on you, and so does the expectation that this date will somehow work magic on your relationship. Not surprisingly, the whole thing ends up being more stressful than fun.

Here’s another common scenario: That nice dinner out (or other creative date night idea) is simply not possible for you right now, whether because of scheduling, finances or both. So you end up feeling that there’s something wrong with your relationship, or that you’re somehow missing out.

Change Your Idea of Date Night

Let’s take some of the pressure off you. Look, I’m the first one to recommend trying something new with your husband — like going on a fun adventure or checking out a new restaurant — to stoke the passion in your relationship. But if you can’t right now, that’s fine.

The point of having a date night isn’t to do something you can brag about on Instagram. It’s to connect with each other. That’s why I recommend broadening your definition of what a date is. What if you were to think of date night as any time the two of you can be fully present with each other? Date night could mean snuggling and talking on the couch in the quiet time after the kids go to bed. It could be having a candlelight dinner in your own dining room. Date night doesn’t even have to happen at night! If possible, how about sneaking off during your work day and grabbing lunch once in a while?

Look for opportunities to turn overlooked moments in your day into times to connect. Perhaps, you could you take a couple of minutes to catch up with each other after work before jumping into household tasks? Could you create a bedtime ritual that brings you closer?

You can make date nights as big or as small as you want them to be. The best dates for the two of you depend on your specific relationship and what’s going on with you right now. Try to go on at least one “date” this week. And for more ideas about strengthening your marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

5 Things Every Mother Should Know About Marriage

motherhood marriage

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, today I have a special blog article on marriage and motherhood for you. It compiles advice from some of my most popular articles on this topic. Follow the link with each tip to read more.

1. Let experienced moms/wives show you the way. If this is your first Mother’s Day, you may already feel confused about how to juggle your marriage with your new responsibilities as a mom. Learning from seasoned parents who have already successfully made this stressful transition can be incredibly helpful. (Read more: Protecting Your Marriage When You Become Parents.)

2. Stop chasing perfection. It seems like the list of what women are “supposed” to be doing as wives and moms just keeps getting longer: staging elaborate parties for the kids, preparing organic meals, planning exotic vacations. And sometimes looking at other people’s social media feeds makes us feel like we’re the only ones not doing everything perfectly. As a result of constantly chase perfection, we often miss the flawed but lovely lives we already have. Pause, catch your breath and be in the moment. (Read more: ‘I’d Spend More Time Being, Not Doing’)

3. He does need to pitch in more. The research shows that in most marriages, wives still do more housework and childcare. If that’s true in your relationship, you’re probably feeling tired, frustrated and resentful. That’s not really conducive to being a loving, patient wife or mom! Open a conversation with your husband about how the two of you can manage household responsibilities better. That could mean that he takes on more or that you hire a housekeeper. (Read more: Why Does Marriage Get Worse After Kids?)

4. Do what you like doing sometimes. Do you always do what your husband or kids want to do? If that’s the case, then it’s time to get back in touch with your favorite hobbies and interests. This isn’t selfish. It actually makes you a better mom and wife. (Read more: Are You Stuck in a Rut? Here’s How to Re-Energize.)

5. Don’t forget to connect first. When we’re busy and stressed, it’s easy to take those we’re closest to for granted. We might be much more abrupt and less tactful with them than we are with other people. But taking that extra moment to connect first pays off. It helps your husband and your kids get into the mental space where they can truly hear what you’re saying and engage with you. (Read more: Connection is Always the First Step.)

Have a warm and joyful Mother’s Day!

It’s Not About the Nail — So What IS It About?

If you’ve never seen the short video “It’s Not About the Nail,” take a couple of minutes to watch it now: https://youtu.be/-4EDhdAHrOg. You’ll probably enjoy a laugh — and feel a twinge of recognition.

As you can see, “It’s Not About the Nail” captures a common situation in marriage. Spouses often go into an interaction with very different expectations, and that can lead to conflict. For example, one spouse doesn’t get their needs met during the interaction and becomes upset. Then the other spouse becomes confused and frustrated because they don’t know why the other spouse is upset and what they need.

It’s All About Communication

Fortunately, there’s a way to avoid this confusion. It’s simple, but not always easy to carry out. The next time you’re in a situation that could turn into an “It’s Not About the Nail” moment, let your husband know at the outset what you’re seeking from the interaction. For example, do you just need to vent and feel heard? Or would you like him to help you solve a problem? Vice versa, if he’s coming to you with a problem, confirm with him what he really needs — even if you think you already know.

Sometimes we skip this step because we think our partner should “just know” what we need and how to respond. But it’s important to remember that each of you brings different experiences to your marriage, and that affects how you react to each other. What seems obvious to you isn’t so obvious to him, and vice versa. This is why being clear about your needs is one of the most loving and helpful things you can do for each other.

I love how the “It’s Not About the Nail” video uses humor to share some real wisdom about relationships. And I hope you’ll remember it the next time you feel like your husband just isn’t getting what you’re saying. For more advice on communication in marriage, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

How To Keep Your Marriage Strong When You Have a Child with a Disability

Marriage isn’t a breeze for anyone. We all face challenges like balancing work and family and somehow finding time to nurture our relationships amid our busy lives.

Couples parenting children with physical, emotional or mental disabilities, though, face an extra level of difficulty. And that can take its toll. For example, one study found that parents of children with autism have a 10 percent higher chance of getting divorced.

The relationship advice I would give to any couple takes on even more relevance for parents of children with disabilities: The most important thing you can do for your marriage is to pull together whatever resources you can to help manage stress.

The Stress Adds Up

Parents of children with disabilities can face extra stress on many different fronts:

  • Paying for treatments or therapies for the child can stretch the family’s finances. Of course taking the child to these therapies can disrupt daily life.
  • When a child has a more severe disability, one parent may actually need to leave the workforce and stay home with the child. Of course, this can create additional financial strain, as well as feelings of isolation for the parent who stays home.
  • Caring for a child with health issues can place demands on time, which may limit a family’s ability to engage in activities and friendships they once enjoyed. It’s also easy to neglect your relationship when time runs short.
  • The emotional part of caring for a child with a disability can be hard. Chronic worry about your child and their future can be draining. Feeling frustrated when demands are high is normal, but many parents also feel guilty for feeling this way.
  • Being spontaneous can be difficult when your child’s every day life requires extensive planning and preparation. The monotony of a rigid, demanding schedule can become exhausting.

Stress Makes It Hard to Relate

So much stress has a very real effect on your brain. Dr. Daniel Siegel says that under extreme stress, the primitive area of the brain geared toward survival hijacks the part of that brain that reasons, plans and makes good decisions. He calls this “flipping your lid.” When this happens, it’s almost impossible to be rational.

As you probably guessed, it’s a struggle to be a good partner when you’re in this mode. You have trouble processing information and hearing each other. That makes it hard to have empathy. You may also become defensive and have difficulty being open. Since you’re in self-protection mode, your capacity for being patient with each other may be compromised.

Give Your Marriage Care Too

No doubt, you and your husband are fully committed and resourceful when it comes to seeking help for your child. But it’s important to also apply some of that care and dedication to your marriage. When your partnership is strong, that’s better for everyone in your family.

One vital thing you can do for your marriage is getting practical help to deal with your challenges. That help could take different forms, from seeking respite care to asking friends and family if they can take on an occasional babysitting shift or errand run for you. Don’t hesitate to try marriage counseling if you need a constructive place to figure out how to protect your marriage while supporting your child’s needs.

You should also take a look at the expectations you’re placing on yourself. Being a devoted parent doesn’t mean never taking time to focus on your marriage. Remember, without daily maintenance, your marriage is at greater risk for deteriorating. Since you probably don’t get much alone time with your husband, learn to maximize the value of small moments when you can connect throughout the day, like when you both first come home after work.

The best way to manage stress is to practice self-care. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your own basic needs because you are always focused on the needs of your child. Remembering that you need rest, nutritious food and support will make you a better caregiver. It’s also helpful to talk about how you and your husband respond to stress and how to engage each other at challenging times.

The two of you can be each other’s greatest ally as you work together to do what’s best for your child. It’s entirely possible for a marriage to grow stronger in the face of adversity, as long as you manage the situation well. For more ideas on maintaining your bond, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

How to Cope When You Love Him But Hate His Politics

We live in politically divisive times. And those divisions even find their way into our marriages.

According to one study, 29 percent of Americans who were either married or in a relationship said today’s political climate causes tension with their partner.

If you and your husband disagree politically, you might feel like you’re trapped in one of those cable news shows where ideological rivals just keep shouting over each other. Or you might be simmering silently, aghast and puzzled at his opinions.

Either way, your diverging beliefs may be creating distance between you. And that can lead to deeper problems if you don’t find a way to manage your differences.

Argue the Right Way

You can still have a successful marriage if the two of you argue over politics sometimes. Political conflicts become a problem only if you handle them in ways that are detrimental to your marriage. It’s especially important to never show contempt for each other when you’re disagreeing over politics — or anything else, for that matter. Contempt is one of the biggest red flags that your relationship is in trouble.

Instead, handle political disagreements in your marriage the same way you would other types of conflict: with respect and love. That means:

  • Don’t bring up points of political disagreement when you are tired, irritated or feel like you can’t control yourself — or when you can tell that your husband is experiencing one of those states.
  • Pause, hold hands and make eye contact when you’re disagreeing. When you are in touch with the humanity of your partner, you’ll be less likely to say things you will regret later.
  • If things get too heated, take a timeout so you can both get to a calmer place.

Balance Conflict With Positivity

You can counteract some of the damage that political conflicts in your marriage cause by actively making an effort to remember all that is positive about your partner and your marriage. I’ve written before about how John Gottman discovered that spouses in successful marriages share more positive interactions than negative ones—a lot more. Happy, long-married couples have 20 positive interactions for every negative one. Even when they’re in conflict, their ratio is still five positives for every negative.

That’s something to keep in mind if politics are a source of negativity in your marriage. When the two of you are regularly kind, respectful and appreciative with each other, political conflicts will be easier to navigate.

Try Reducing Your Overall Stress

If political differences with your husband are pushing your buttons more than usual lately, remember that your marriage is being affected by outside forces. In other words, your problems aren’t solely caused by issues between the two of you.

First, it’s not your imagination that the overall political climate has grown more polarized and divisive. The society that we live in always has some influence on our relationships. And, in this case, that impact is turning up the heat around political differences we might have glossed over in the past.

Then there’s everyday stress. In a 2018 survey by the American Psychiatric Association, about 40 percent of Americans said they had grown more anxious in the past year. When we’re more stressed, we tend to magnify the negative traits we see in our partners. So, as an experiment, try focusing on reducing your stress and see if that affects how you feel about your political differences.

Set Some Boundaries

It’s perfectly fine if the two of you just decide to agree to disagree about politics and not discuss the issues that get you heated.

That’s what’s working for one of the couples in a New York Times article about partners with opposing political beliefs:

The next morning (after the 2016 election), with tears in my eyes, I told Nisim we were going to have to get divorced because I could not live with him for the next four years. He said, “Honey, we’re not going to get divorced. We’re just not going to talk about politics for the next four years.”

Get Curious and Listen

For other couples, though, it can be beneficial to try to better understand each other’s beliefs. We tend to assume an awful lot about other people, even our spouses, based on how they vote. But just because someone supports a political party or official on one stance, doesn’t mean that they wholeheartedly embrace everything in that party or official’s agenda. Having the courage to get curious and to listen deeply can help you get past any assumptions you are holding about each other’s political opinions. It can also help you decide whether your spouse’s beliefs are ones you simply dislike or whether they violate your deep values (in which case the issues with your marriage probably go beyond the scope of this article).

Remember That Facts Don’t Change Minds

Right now, you might be thinking, “That’s great and all. But it would be even greater if he could just change his mind and agree with me politically!”

Well, that might be wishful thinking. But if you do think there’s some potential for your husband to move closer to you politically, I recommend reading law professor Ozan Varol’s essay “Facts Don’t Change People’s Minds. Here’s What Does.”

Varol writes that facts don’t sway our opinions because “we tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and overvalue evidence that confirms them. We filter out inconvenient truths and arguments on the opposing side.”

The article also explores how no one likes to admit they were wrong. And sometimes people just dig in harder when we try to convince them of the error of their political ways.

It’s more effective, Varol says, to give the other person an out that lets them save face.

Finally, I want to leave you with a quote from the minister Joseph Fort Newton: “People are lonely because they build walls, instead of bridges.” I hope this article inspires you to build a bridge over the political differences between you, rather than a wall, especially if other parts of your marriage are going well.