As humans we love love. We crave love and affection, and most of us love to give love as much as we receive it. There’s a really good reason for this—love is good for us. We are literally wired to connect and love.
There’s a mountain of research about the benefits of being part of a long-term, loving partnership—longer lifespan, less incidences of heart disease and stroke, fewer addictions, greater financial well-being, and other healthy habits. Studies also report those in love enjoy higher well-being, happiness, and satisfaction with life. As the director of one of the world’s longest studies of well-being, Professor George Vaillant, once said: “Happiness is love. Full stop.”
Some brand new family research underscores that being in love with your spouse or partner is not just great for the two of you. It’s also great for your kids.
Having Parents In Love is Great for Your Kids
We’ve always known that being in a loving home is good for us. But it’s not just the love of the parent towards the child that is important (though it is important). Kids also do better when their parents love each other.
One study in Nepal over 12 years showed that children with parents who loved each other stayed in school longer and married later in life. Another recent study shows that the more the love between parents goes up, the more challenging behaviour in the child goes down.
And a longitudinal study published in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also found that the quality of the parents’ marriage had as much influence on the child’s future mental and physical health and well-being as their own relationship with either parent.
What About When You Don’t Feel Love?
Of course, being “in love” is a bit of a moving target. Certainly it’s difficult to maintain those first tremendous flushes of love! And the COVID-19 environment hasn’t been kind on parents. We’ve had little to no time alone. Stress, anxiety, and worries about the future, including both health and financial concerns, have increased. If your relationship has suffered a little, you aren’t alone.
But the research shows it’s worth working on increasing your connection with your spouse both for yourself and your children. So, how do you do that?
The biggest change you need to make is to spend time together. Just like dollars are the currency of our economy, attention is the currency of relationships. At the risk of mixing metaphors, if our relationships are starved for connection then we may end up in the red, and relationally bankrupt.
Weekly Date Nights
Have a date night every week. Every week. If the kids are old enough, let them watch a movie while you go out. If they’re not old enough, hire a babysitter. If a babysitter’s not an option because of resources, find another couple who also want to have time with their spouse and do a trade-off. And if none of that works, let the kids watch a movie in the living room while you have a date in the bedroom… nudge nudge, wink wink! (Just remember to lock the door.)
Go on a bike ride.
Doing something fun together, where you’re looking at each other, smiling and laughing, will always beat out time in front of the TV.
Try something new.
Experiencing new things with your spouse lets you see them in a new light. It’s fun, and you’ll find out new things about each other that’ll increase your love and understanding of each other.
It’s so easy to stop talking. Talk every day. Ask about your spouse’s day (yes, even if you’ve been working from home together all day). Tell them about your day. Talk about what’s going on in the world beyond the four walls of your home. Showing interest in their lives, opinions, and thoughts is a great way to reconnect.
Make time for intimacy.
The truth is that the 10 pm cuddle and kiss generally doesn’t do much for our relationships. Make time to be slow, involved, and as pleasing to your partner as you can be. Those intimate relationships are essential for a thriving, loving relationship.
What If You’re in an Unhappy Relationship?
For most relationships, regardless of whether it’s happy or unhappy, there are still things you can try to improve it.
Rather than focus on fixing your partner, think about what you can do to make the relationship better and more loving. Work on treating your partner kindly and truly listening to their point of view. Think about things you could do to show them that you care—taking on a task they normally do, or bringing home flowers. And always try to work together as a team, particularly where your kids are involved.
Being ‘parents in love’ takes time and effort, but the rewards are worth it—for you and for your children.
Dr. Justin Coulson is a bestselling author, husband, and father of six. His latest book is Miss-connection: Why Your Teenage Daughter 'Hates' You, Expects the World and Needs to Talk.