Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My husband and I had baby No. 3 this year; we also have 3- and 5-year-olds. We have a pretty good life and are essentially living the dream, I'm sure. We both work full-time and put all of our remaining time and energy into our littles.
I feel — and my husband does, too — like we've lost our relationship. We like each other a lot and appreciate each other hugely (on good days!), three kids and keeping house is definitely a team effort for us, but our relationship has been back-burnered to the point that we're not sure how to get it back on track. We live together, we get along OK, we make a point to have the occasional-bordering-on-rare date night, but there is little intimacy and not much of a connection between us anymore.
We talk about it, we try to make an effort, but we're always exhausted and it seems like we keep swinging and missing at attempts to get back to how we used to be. He's missing the intimacy, I'm missing the connection, and we get frustrated when we feel like we're making an effort and getting no return.
Carolyn says: Please, give yourselves two gifts: a once-a-week (not "occasional-bordering-on-rare"!) standing appointment to spend time together without the kids; and permission to take the long view. The kids won't be this exhausting forever, or even five years from now.
Wait — third gift: permission to stop trying to "get back to how we used to be." Forget the little kids thing — that's not a realistic goal ever. Life moves forward and changes us, and changes what we have. So, focus on making something more appealing out of what your life and your relationship actually are now. To keep looking back to what once was, as if it's somehow achievable, is torture.
If money stands in the way of your having a regular date night, then look into low- or no-cost options such as a babysitting swap with another family. You can also pay for care but keep the dates low-cost or free. And keep in mind how expensive counseling and divorce can be, so you beat back any temptation to skimp.
It's important also for each of you to find some alone time, too, to keep yourselves from getting swallowed up by parenthood. Ideally you can find a way to remain interesting to yourselves and each other, but if that just sounds like another chore or another way to feel like you're doing everything wrong, then frame it instead as just a way to get out of parent mode for an hour so you don't lose your freaking minds.
Plus, when you're covering for each other as the other one gets some air, you get to find your groove with being the solo parent, and the confidence you build that way can make the whole gong show less stressful overall. Plus it'll give you a shot of intense gratitude for each other.
And, again, be patient. A little, a toddler, a baby, a house and two full-time jobs? Of course you miss intimacy and connection. Remind each other you're all in, and surrender yourselves to the ride.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.