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Two parents, new triplets: hardly a recipe for romance. Michele Weiner-Davis, Redbook Marriage Institute expert shows them how to bond better.
Chris Brosius, 30, and Kim Brosius, 32, of Wenonah, New Jersey - like many busy couples - have little time for the romance they enjoyed back in their just-met days. Their already bustling schedules (Kim was a director of telecommunications and Chris a purchasing manager) became even more complicated with the births of their three sons, Ryan, Connor and Tyler, a year ago, just after their sixth wedding anniversary. Triple blessing? Yup. Triple workload and stress? Definitely.
"Letting romance fall by the wayside is dangerous," says Michele Weiner-Davis, marriage therapist and author of The Sex-Starved Marriage. "Couples often don't realize that it's easy to grow apart, especially once kids are in the picture, making demands. They can develop hard-to-break habits that undermine their union."
So Redbook teamed the Brosiuses with Weiner-Davis, who offers love lessons that they - and you - can use.
Little Energy Left for Lovin'
Now a stay-at-home mom, Kim has more babies than she has arms to hold them. But while the couple has family nearby to give her an occasional daytime break, "I usually don't want the help - though I know I need it," confesses Kim. "I've always been very independent. It's been a struggle for me to accept help from others." By "others," however, Kim isn't referring to Chris; she wishes he would help more.
"Chris is a great dad and works hard at his job," says Kim. "But there are things that he forgets need to be done. Before the boys, Chris did 95 percent of the laundry! If he'd do even a load or two a week now, it would mean a lot to me."
Their heavy workload is further complicated by how they each deal with stress and responsibilities. He insists on having downtime daily. "I need it. I'd go crazy if I was giving a hundred percent every waking moment, which is how Kim operates," Chris says. "For example, I love hockey - and I go out once a week with my friends to play the sport. It's a release."
"It's good for Chris to have an outlet," Kim agrees. "But sometimes I resent it a little. After being home all day with the boys and chores, it's hard for me that he's out playing." But Chris wishes that Kim would "escape" weekly as well: "I've often told Kim that she should find something that she also loves to do, to get away. But she won't. I can't make her."
While Kim admits that she's locked herself into a pattern of being stressed - "These days I'm hyper-organized, but I have to be with the babies" - she also feels that Chris doesn't get what she's up against. She reasons that if Chris was in tune with her workload's magnitude, then he'd understand why it's difficult for her to "put aside responsibilities for personal happiness," Kim explains. But this self-sacrificing motherly attitude gets in the way of them sharing romantic time, too.
While the Brosiuses' life together is complicated by caring for three active babies, these guidelines are just as helpful to couples without kids, says Weiner-Davis.
1. Avoid competing with each other.
Today, overscheduled couples tend to do this without even being aware of it, which undermines a marriage's role as a place of refuge. "With Kim and Chris, there's a sense that each believes 'I'm working harder than you are,'" says Weiner-Davis. Kim indicates that she feels Chris's job is a picnic compared with the kids' demands. "Sometimes I get jealous. He talks to grown-ups at work," she says.
So they need to look at their situation objectively - and pat each other on the back more. "The truth is they're both working their buns off to sustain their family," says Weiner-Davis. What's missing is a mutual celebration of their amazing accomplishments. So first on the must-do marital checklist is to let those nearby relatives babysit at least two evenings a month to start; it would allow the couple regular time off to reconnect, to toast each other in a restaurant, at a picnic, anywhere but at home. They need to get out as a couple, to talk about things other than the kids' needs and which parent is doing how much of what, to just delight in each other's company, without pulling out a balance sheet.
2. Understand your spouse's motivations.
Weiner-Davis recommends that the Brosiuses implement her "real giving technique." "People tend to give to others things that they themselves would like to receive," Weiner-Davis says. "But that's not real giving. Dig deeper for what makes your mate tick." For example, Chris tells Kim to go out with her friends to have fun. However, that's how Chris relieves stress. Kim wouldn't find that relaxing - she has too much to do at home. She'd also miss the boys. "To her, his urging is not a gift," Weiner-Davis explains. He needs to offer an option that's in sync with how she sees her world. Chris should encourage her to invite friends over when he goes out. That way, she'll be satisfied to be near her sons, but can also enjoy adult company - renting a movie or sharing a potluck dinner. New moms often say that the first thing that gets deleted out of their life is a tie with girlfriends. Having pals come into her home is essential, says Weiner-Davis, because then Kim wouldn't feel lonely. Chris might also call to let her know that he's thinking of her. When she's feeling connected to pals again, she will connect to him better as well.
3. Give each other what you need most.
Chris should ask what specifically he could do to lighten Kim's load - and then follow through and do the chores she requests. Kim would view that as thoughtful. "It doesn't matter whether Kim's requests makes sense to Chris, because real giving means that you offer your spouse what she wants. You do it because a happy marriage is built on mutual giving," says Weiner-Davis.
And then it's key that Kim step back and let Chris complete the task, a behavior that she admits has been a stumbling block for her. "It's a catch-22," she realizes now. "I tend to do chores to get them done. So I don't give him a chance to pitch in, even though I get irritable that he doesn't!" Wives often take on too much or insist that tasks be finished in a certain way, blaming husbands for not doing so, says Weiner-Davis. This puts a wedge between a couple's connection.
4. Maximize the personal time you do have.
After the boys are fed and tucked into bed - which resembles a race to the finish line - Kim and Chris tend to watch a little TV together and then spend the remaining evening apart. Kim usually heads to bed or to her computer to play a game of solitaire, which "relaxes me," she says. Chris watches his sports shows. Kim and Chris agree that they don't want to waste their precious moments, but by nightfall, they are both so bushed that vegging out is tempting. Their typical nightly routine shows little or no effort to sustain physical and emotional intimacy, Weiner-Davis notes. "They don't carve out a specific time to talk without the demands of their little ones."
They must address the implications of not sharing private time at night. First step, ink in one or two evenings weekly to go to their bedroom as soon as the boys are asleep - to talk or whatever, says Weiner-Davis. For the Brosiuses, this means forgoing TV. Romance will then return, she adds. Revisit how much attention you're paying to your marriage. Kim and Chris are at the beginning stages of negotiating new parenting demands. But even after they figure out what will connect them more as a couple over the next few months, they need to be aware that a marriage has a life of its own and must be constantly fine-tuned. The boys will present new challenges; Kim might go back to an office job. But if more than a week has gone by and they haven't spent quality one-on-one time, they know to call a time-out together.
Five Rules to Make "I Do" Last
Troubled couples often complain that by the time they try marriage counseling, It's too late. Marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, the author of Divorce Remedy, believes that if more couples were given practical, useful tools for solving their problems instead of being encouraged to analyze every single sentence they say to each other, they might not end up on the brink of a breakup. Read on for her five rules for keeping your marriage in good working order.
1. Don't Just Talk, Take Action
Ask yourself: "What am I doing to make my marriage work?" "Usually women say, 'Everything,'" says Weiner-Davis. "But generally women talk and men are action oriented." Marriage therapy, with its emphasis on verbal communication skills, can sometimes miss half the picture. "If you've ever heard yourself say, 'I talk until I'm blue in the face,' that could be your clue."
2. Do More of What Works
To break bad patterns, you need to unearth the things you're doing right and do them more often. When things go well, take the dynamics apart: What time of day is it? How do you talk to each other? What small things make a difference? The most common answer Weiner-Davis hears: "We spend more time together." That makes sense: Time together builds friendship and connection. A date night, a hobby, or physical contact can provide a road map to getting back on track.
3. Do Less of What Doesn't Work
Do you find yourself constantly thinking that your spouse is stubborn? This isn't just his problem; your tactics aren't working. When you're in a heated situation, stop and ask yourself, "What am I hoping to accomplish? Is what I'm about to do or say going to bring me closer to my goal or further away from it?" "If it's further away," says Weiner-Davis, "stop and do anything different."
4. Remember Why You Married Him in the First Place
"If you've been having a rough time with your spouse, your feelings will block out your memories of the good times," Weiner-Davis says. When couples feel hopeless or angry, the focus shifts almost completely to what's wrong instead of to why you fell in love. Revisiting what it was about each other that made you pledge to spend the rest of your lives together can point your energy toward a positive result instead of toward a negative one.
5. Decide to Love Each Other
Even the strongest marriages are tested over time. Keep that in mind if you're ever tempted to declare, "I love him, but I'm not in love with him." "It's the most common complaint," says Weiner-Davis. "People say, 'I fell out of love' the same way they say, 'I fell off the roof.' But it doesn't just happen. To be in love you have to make a decision on a daily basis to do things to be closer to your spouse, to keep the feeling of love going," she explains. "Couples who lose the feeling of love have made a decision to let things slide and not make the relationship a priority. If you've made the decision to lose love, you can make the decision to rediscover it."
© Michele Weiner-Davis Training Corp. 1996-2006. All rights reserved.