Marriage is hard no matter how full your full-time job is. So hard, sometimes, that we wake up and wonder why we signed that damn piece of paper in the first place. Working moms have a unique set of challenges in keeping a healthy partnership. We have less time, more obligations, (usually) more stressors, more responsibilities and, unfortunately, a lot more distractions. Ever sit down and realize you can’t actually remember the last time you and your significant other went out on a real, grown-up date? Or even—dare I say it—had sex? Yeah, you’re not alone.
Sure, not all couples are a perfect match. Some relationships are simply not made to stand the stand the test of time, and that’s OK. But if you are confident in your life partner and want to get the most out of your life together, here are 20 little things every working mom can do to improve her marriage. The best part: they really, really work.
1. Designate a “safe word” for arguments.
Not a 50-Shades-type safe word, one for when you’re in a fight that’s going nowhere, causing you undue stress or pain or just draining you. Agree beforehand that when one of you uses the word, the argument is over. It doesn’t mean you can’t pick up the discussion after you’ve both cooled down; it solely means you’re pressing the pause button. I recommend choosing a silly word. My favorites are salami, booger and squeegee, because it’s really hard to stay mad when someone is yelling, “Squeegee, squeegee, OK?!”
2. Send flirty texts while you’re at work.
When you’re at work you’re, well, working. But all of us can squeeze in a few flirty texts during the day to let your significant other know you’re thinking about their face, their hair, their hands, their … well, you get the idea. For some help, try these fun adult emoji apps to get things going: Adult Emoji for Lovers, Flirtmoji (warning: it’s graphic) and Chris Bechard’s Sexting app. Just turn off alerts on your computer or your co-workers might catch a glimpse of your partner’s racy response.
3. Pick one TV show that you’ll watch only together, no matter how long it takes you to finish the season.
Many marriage counselors and experts, including Dr. Bob Martin, agree that couples who watch TV together are happier and more committed. The type of TV show doesn’t matter, but there’s an added bonus to watching shows with solid romantic storylines.
4. Indulge in a little old-fashioned experimentation.
Lucky enough to live in a state where marijuana is legal? A host of studies prove that couples who smoke, vape or otherwise ingest weed together are kinder and gentler to one another. They also have more fun, at least in my own experience. And it makes sense. After the kids are in bed, what’s better than cuddling and giggling together? Even if your college pot experience left you paranoid, give it another shot. You’re older, wiser, more confident, and worst-case scenario, you and your spouse get to feel like kids again.
5. Do a home project together.
Tackle something that isn’t urgent that you can work on as a family, such as building a backyard bench, a craft table or even a dollhouse. As your separate working lives absorb more of your attention. This is a way, beyond your children, that you can connect, find combined fulfillment, and hopefully, get something useful done.
6. Have sex.
I know you know, but just about every expert out there will tell you the same thing: couples who have sex regularly have better sex and stronger, longer-lasting relationships. Plus, you get all the added benefits, such as depression and stress reduction, less irritation and a self-esteem boost. Even if you literally have to put it in your calendar, get ‘er done.
7. Handle one of your spouse’s chores a week.
Does your partner usually take out the garbage? Walk the dogs? Make dinner? Pick one once a week and do it for them. The catch: don’t expect thanks or a reward. The whole purpose is to make your spouse’s life a little bit easier. A regular practice of altruism, even if it’s forced, makes a happier marriage. Bonus: your spouse might start throwing a little altruism your way.
8. Send sexy selfies.
A busy working life plus having children has left you with a less-than pin-up-quality bod? Sending provocative pics to your partner makes you feel sexier and makes your spouse think about more than what you’re going to have for dinner later. So, sneak off to the nearest bathroom stall at work, and get down with your sexy self … ie.
9. Leave encouraging notes.
Many of us over 35 come from an analog time, before texting and Facebook, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and smitten kittens put actual pen to real-life paper and wrote love notes. Wouldn’t it provide great comfort to open our briefcase or laptop and discover a handwritten message of encouragement from our loving spouse? Let them know you love them and that they’re doing a great job, old-school style.
10. Understand that being unhappy with your marriage is normal.
The overwhelming majority of couples report being less satisfied with their marriage after seven years than they were when they first got married. Projecting an image of complacency or perfection, however, sets an unrealistic standard for those around you, including your children, and hurts your marriage. Accepting that your marriage is less than perfect sets the stage for you and your partner to figure a way out of your slump together. After all, the first step to solving your problem is admitting you have one, right?
11. Find ways to surprise your partner.
More so than fighting or financial issues, many experts believe that boredom is the primary killer of modern marriages. It leads to restlessness, irritation, cheating and even arguments, perhaps in a misguided attempt to inject something interesting into an otherwise predictable union. Instead, try little gifts, spontaneous lunch dates during work hours, a fun weekend excursion or new bedroom toys to spice things up. Plus, thinking up creative ways to surprise your partner will make your relationship more interesting for you as well.
12. Save the in-law spats for when it really matters.
Does your spouse’s mom get on your nerves? Your partner is fully aware. But she’s still the mother of the person you love, someone who, likely, loves their own mom. Of course, if there’s a big issue that needs addressing (um, she can’t just show up at your kid’s school and pull him out of class at will), address it, but letting the little things slide will spare your significant other the agony of hearing their parents get picked apart. Ask for the same consideration if you’re sick of your partner’s insults about the folks who raised you.
When you first met, a nice, sit-down dinner or a drink at a bar was totally fine because you were excited just to be in one another’s presence. Now, eating across from the person you’ve known for so long elicits more yawns than anything else. Move past the sit-down dates to the really fun stuff, the kind of activities you’ll remember doing together for the rest of your lives. Go to an escape room, sign up for a zombie race, go to a music festival, or hell, go sky-diving. You’ll be terrified, but you’ll thank me later.
14. Dress up for each other.
No, not that way. If you’re going to have a traditional night out, pretend you’re back in your early dating days and dress to the nines. Not only will you both feel hot-to-trot in your fancy duds, you’ll remind one another of all that exhilaration you once felt merely at the sight of one another. Who cares what people think about your outfits? You already bagged the love of your life, and boy do they look good!
15. For every one bad thing about your partner, find five good ones.
Each time your partner does something that royally pisses you off, write down that attribute or behavior. Then, on the other side of the page, list five good things about your spouse. They don’t have to be related to the irritating thing. Rather than shooting off an angry text in response to whatever stupid thing they just did, you’ll find that recording the positives reduces your rage, and before you know it, you’ll have a long list of all the reasons why you married that lunkhead in the first place.
Use that imagination, ladies, and I mean from G-rated fantasies to NC-17. Fantasizing is healthy for you and great for your relationship. Wish you could own that diamond necklace in the window? The sales clerk doesn’t know you can’t afford it. Go in, try it on, and have your partner pretend it’s not decadent enough for the love of their life. As working moms, we spend so much of our lives being practical that it sometimes makes us afraid to dream. But when you and your partner indulge in fantasies together, your marriage might become downright dreamy.
17. Never go to bed without saying, "I love you."
I’m not going to tell you to never go to bed angry at your spouse. That’s impossible, and holding ourselves to unrealistic standards is as damaging as anger itself. But no matter how mad you are, force yourself to tell your partner you love them before going to sleep. It won’t always be easy, but you will both sleep better, and more often than not, those three simple words will prevent the argument from continuing into the morning.
You are both busy people, so finding time to communicate, even if it’s just about your snippy co-worker or an upcoming presentation, can be a challenge. Having your partner as an up-to-date sounding board for your life’s trials and tribulations, though, is worth the effort. Even if it’s just 10 minutes in the morning on your way to work, tell your partner as much as you can about what’s going on with you.
And conversely, when your partner is sharing their current goings-on with you, listen. For working moms, it is so easy to let our minds drift to the next item on our to-do list while our partner is going off on a tangent, but don’t. As good as you are at faking it, they know you and when you’re fully present. Listening to others makes them feel valued and loved, and listening can actually make you a happier person overall. Your to-do list can wait.
20. Try and try again.
Marriage isn’t a math problem with a single, irrefutable answer. It isn’t even a poem you can analyze three different ways and get three different meanings. It’s more like some crazy Beautiful Mind-type collage you keep working on year after year. Accepting that your marriage always will be a work in progress is the healthiest possible outlook. Besides, who wants a perfect marriage anyway? The journey of life is all about falling down and picking ourselves up again, because each time we do, we find ourselves stronger, braver and more connected to that fabulous idiot who was crazy enough to get into this whole nutty marriage thing with us to begin with.