Book Excerpt: 'Take Back Your Marriage'

Get sitters and go out on regular dates. This is not only good for your relationship, but it also sends your children the message that indeed you are a couple who do special things together: you dress up, look great, and go out for a good time together. Even if they protest, even young children can handle a few hours of separation from their parents. Older children may be glad to be rid of you if they have good babysitters (our children used to suggest we go out so they could see their favorite babysitter), and they will feel more secure because they sense that you enjoy each other's company. Adolescents will be impressed that old-timers like you still date.

Never complain about your spouse to the children. This tells your children that your primary relationship is with them, not with your spouse. Here I am referring to important complaints about your mate's personality or character, not the occasional frustrations, say, about being late or forgetting to turn the lights off.

If you have a heated argument in hearing range of the children (sometimes it's unavoidable), then let them see you be affectionate when you've made up. This helps children know that your relationship is strong enough to recover from anger and misunderstanding, and that you are taking care of your marriage. You can check out with your children if they feel upset about your arguing. During a bedtime talk, I once asked my daughter, when she was about age seven, if she felt upset when she heard her mother and me argue. I will never forget her reply: "No, it doesn't bother me, because I know you are not going to get a divort." (That was her word for "divorce.") I told her she was right about that.

When your children are old enough, and if you can afford it, get away for an occasional weekend together without the children. This is a way to revive your marriage.

Be open with your children about what you are doing for your marriage, and why you are doing it. You don't have to give lectures, but make sure your children know that you are setting limits on attention and availability for them because you love each other and want to make sure you stay close. Your explanations, of course, will be different for children at different levels of development, but all children past the toddler stage can understand that you like each other and like to be alone and do things together sometimes. With adolescents, there are moments when you can quietly share your philosophy of marriage. I have with my kids.

From Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart, by William J. Doherty, PhD (Guilford Press). Posted with permission of The Guilford Press, (C) Copyright 2001.

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