Full question: Looking back, is there anything you wish you had done differently with your marriage while you were in the midst of raising kids? Or, is there anything that particularly helped you keep a strong marriage relationship during those years?
Weekly date night has been mentioned more than once through more than one question on this blog. (Maybe I should improve on this....) Thoughts shared on weekly date night: "The most important thing we did while our children were little was to have date night." "We always had couple dates." "date night every week, even if we just went to the library, for a couple of hours" "[We] tried to have a date night each week."
Couple vacations were mentioned a few times: "The things that we feel helped strengthen our marriage most were ... 3) if possible, a week away from the kids for a vacation. (Note: a few years that meant just having them stay with friends, while we stayed home for the vacation.)" "the trips we took to business meetings were good for our relationship." "after several years, [we] learned the value of a night or two away on our own."
Involving Dad more in raising the kids was also mentioned several times.
Other things mentioned:
Getting together on finances and not keeping secrets.
Keeping church responsibilities in check and not being resentful about time spent there.
Keeping your bedroom off limits to kids unless they are invited in after knocking.
Respecting the different needs of men and women, especially a man's need for "down time" and a woman's need for verbal interaction.
Learning to communicate your needs so the other person isn't expected to read your mind.
Family meals together.
Establishing your "roles" within your family.
Going to bed at the same time.
Attending the temple together regularly.
Improving physical talents so you can do fun things together.
Mary and Robert
The most important thing we did while our children were little was to have date night. It didn't matter what we did but we did something together and often with another couple. Sometimes it had to be time at a friends home and the kids played or watched a movie while we played cards or games. It was important to set this example for the kids. They needed to see that we are friends and that our relationship is paramount.
Cynthia (and Brad)
Try to be together in decisions about child rearing.
Assign one person to pay the bills, and keep track of all the expenses, BUT ALWAYS KEEP THE OTHER PERSON INFORMED SO THAT THERE ARE NO SECRETS AND NO SURPRISES REGARDING FINANCES. It is essential that you are in agreement as to the money that is spent.
I always find it puzzling when women in the church show resentment and make it difficult for the husband to fulfill his duties, or vice versa. Of course, there is always the one who can find ways to overdo their church calling and are never home. Make sure that both of you do not have major church callings at the same time. Sometimes leaders don't associate that fact and need to be reminded. (Inspiration aside).
Essential that parents have some time to themselves. Our bedroom was off limits unless the child was invited in, after knocking.
Samantha (and Thomas)
We both wish we had known more about the differences in how men and women think. For example, the need for women to have some verbal interaction and the need for men to have "down time."
I had to learn that men need "down time," watching ballgames or reading the newspaper for example, to rejuvenate. It's not wasting time. Unfortunately, his down time coincided with my need for verbal interaction after spending the day caring for kids. It took some adjustment.
Also, I learned not to expect him to "read my mind" about how to help me feel supported and loved. It took some coaching, but it really paid off. It wasn't that he didn't feel the things I hoped to hear him articulate. He just didn't verbalized those feelings, until he knew it mattered to me.
There are good books about the differences that helped us see how to meet each other's needs better. As Henry Eyring said recently, "put [the other person's] needs above your own."
The things that we feel helped strengthen our marriage most were 1) reserving Saturday mornings for "talk time," 2) date night every week, even if we just went to the library, for a couple of hours and 3) if possible, a week away from the kids for a vacation. (Note: a few years that meant just having them stay with friends, while we stayed home for the vacation.)
[The following was sent first and although the contributor thought it wasn't as on-target for this topic, I thought it was still good info so I'm including it too:]
We both wish we would have involved Dad more in disciplining our sons. It was only after they were mostly raised that we learned about the importance of "Man Talk," not just "Mommy Talk," particularly as teenagers. Here are great books available now about raising boys and the importance of Dads taking leadership in their development.
While he was very involved with their scouting, sports and playing around the house, I was mostly responsible for everyday discipline, homework and chores. As they got older, they would have benefitted from him taking more responsibility for reminders (so it's not just mom nagging), explaining expectations and why things are important.
Too often I did the FHE lessons and other "teaching" opportunities. I was too quick to take over, thinking I was being helpful because he wasn't big on lesson prep or "speaking up" the way I do. It's important for the whole family, but especially teenage boys, to know that Dad shares the parental concern for their behavior, devotion to the gospel and participation in family chores etc.
Abigail (and Martin)
As I have been answering these questions, sometimes I feel like my kids turned out well in spite of how we did things, not because of how we did them. J
I feel bad about a lot of things my kids saw in my marriage, but I don’t know that either my husband or I really knew just how to deal with everything. My husband’s parents were divorced when he was ten. There were five children involved. His mother didn’t allow much contact with his father and she herself had several unsuccessful marriages afterwards. My husband really didn’t see a happy loving relationship between husband and wife. He learned to shut his emotions in and fend for himself. He vowed that he would never divorce, but was really unclear on what it took to have a loving relationship with a spouse. My father passed away when I was eight. I know my parents had a good relationship, but I was too young to really see how it all worked out. Two years after my father passed away, my mother remarried. Her husband did not really care too much for either me or my two brothers, so we just kind of lived in the same house. My mother, however, always made sure I knew how much she loved me and was great to help me with my emotional needs.
As a parent. I did the same for my children. Unfortunately, I didn’t worry about my husband. He was used to shutting his emotions inside and seemed perfectly content that way. I felt like he viewed feelings as a weakness and I felt belittled when I had emotional needs. I threw myself into raising my kids and trying to be there for them. Of course, that was probably more than they needed and was far less than what my husband needed, but we got through it all. I do wish we had been better examples to our children of how spouses should put their spouse above themselves and their children. I think we survived because we still had the same core beliefs. Even at this point in our lives, we still need to work harder on communication and mutual respect.
Rachel (and Bennett)
It's easy when involved in the day to day tasks of parenting to forget that first, you are a spouse, and that your marriage is really the most important relationship--and the one that you hope will last for eternity. I wish we would have made more time for "US" during those busy parenting times. It was difficult for us to do a regular date night, but the trips we took to business meetings were good for our relationship. I wish we could have spent more time together. It takes planning and commitment to carve out time for improving our marriage relationship, but I think it is most important!
Jane (and Samuel)
We always tried to keep our relationship new. We always had couple dates. We remembered President McKay's admonition that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. As wonderful as our trips were when we did get away without our children, (after being a social worker and psychotherapist after the kids were mostly grown), I am not so certain I would have left my children with other caretakers and gone off to the Orient during the Viet Nam War, I don't think we took into account the possible trauma to our children just with our absence let alone what would have ensued had we not come back. On the other hand....that trip enriched our lives and I think the lives of our children just because those places were more real because we had been there. Whether or not our absence for that month hurt our children...the hurt is so deep that they don't know it is there. I hope they will forgive us and that the benefits outweigh the hurt.
Marsha (and Richard)
Having our children bonded us together more than it caused a divide. They were and are today, a great “common interest”. We were both anxious to have a large family and greeted each one with gratitude. In those years our roles were quite defined. My husband provided and gave church leadership while I cared for the home and children. That’s a bit “old school” now, since there has been a major swing. There are good and bad points to today’s approach. I was home with the children, so I took full responsibility of the upkeep of the house and all the needs of the children. My husband, at the same time, worked hard at building a career, provided for the needs of a large family and set a great example of church service.
I do wish that my husband had been more of a participant in raising our children. He shared his feelings and ideas about how the children should be raised, we made decisions together about their needs and the appropriate approach but most all of the “day to day” was left up to me. That was challenging with a large family and I realize that I should have spoken up and tried harder to involve him and get him to share the load when he was home. However, he is making up for it now, as he tries so hard to learn and grow and is most thoughtful and helpful and open to my needs. We all learn and grow…thank goodness.
We always had a family breakfast and dinner together. My husband led us in scripture study and family prayer and was home promptly at 6 for dinner. This provided quality time for all of us. He never brought his work home or worked weekends and did work with the children in the yards.
Luckily my husband and I are both morning people and not night people. We went to bed together which gave us personal time to talk. We took walks together when the older children could be left in charge and tried to have a date night each week. We attended the temple monthly and after several years, learned the value of a night or two away on our own.
My husband has lots of talents and activities that he can enjoy now that the children are grown. He plays golf, tennis, and enjoys skiing and fishing. I did not have opportunities growing up to do any of those things and with the needs of a large family, did not take the time or resources to develop any physical skills. I truly wish now that I had done so when I was younger. I would love to be able to share some of those activities with him and our family.
I guess all in all, we are very different, but we have chosen our roles and come to truly appreciate as well as love each other. Our greatest fear is that either of us will have to “go it alone” some day.
Next week's question: What part of your children's weddings did you pay for and/or plan vs. your kids? Why?