In a busy life, with kids, jobs, and extracurricular activities, it can be hard to focus on your partner. I'm 13 years into my own marriage, and last night, in the middle of the night, I crawled back into bed after being up with the baby. I was freezing and said to my husband as he stirred, "Come over here and warm me up." I didn't move closer to him; I expected that he would move closer to me. It wasn't intentional, really, I was just exhausted. His response: "Meet me halfway." This simple statement, said in a haze of sleep, really sat with me. And the next morning, as we went about a busy Saturday with our two small children, I wondered: How often do I not meet him halfway as my partner?
I was dismayed recently to read an article that declared that a partnership really shouldn't be work. Doesn't everything good come with a certain degree of work? Why should a relationship be any different? Why are we, as a society, afraid of anything that takes work? Sometimes, my relationship with my husband is no work; sometimes, it's a little work; and sometimes, it's a lot of work. It ebbs and flows, like anything, and on some days, I really have to be conscious to be kind, to meet him halfway, and to remember why we're together at all.
I didn't always have to think about things that way. I have known my husband for more than 30 years, when I met him as a small cheerleader, cheering for his Pee Wee football team. I remember his blonde hair and blue eyes and even as a 6-year-old, I was smitten. Later, as we grew up, I truly fell in love with him. That's the fairy tale, right? And in many ways, it has been. We graduated high school, moved away from one another, traveled the world and went to college, separately, and still ended up getting married.
It isn't always easy. In the hustle and bustle of life with kids and full-time careers, often, our relationship has been put on the back burner. We work to fit in adult conversations and take the time to connect each evening for at least an hour every night when the kids are in bed. And sometimes we just can't—the kids won't go to bed on time; he gets called out for work; I have grading to be done; the trash needs to be taken out—but I don't think that's a bad thing. I think that it's realistic to realize that all good things come with work.
So, yes, my husband and I work to show one another we care, to meet halfway. Here's how we do it, and how you can, too:
1. Consider your partner first sometimes: After the kids have eaten powdered donuts in your bed and the crumbs are all through the sheets, be the one to clear your partner's side before your own.
2. Help clean up—even when you don't want to: Just saying: When your toddler dumps an entire container of feta cheese on the kitchen floor, grab the vacuum first and clean it up.
3. Be thoughtful, in small ways: Pick up an iced coffee on your way home from work. Or beer. Or whatever will bring a smile to your partner's face. Just do something, however small, to let her know she's still on your mind.
4. Trade off with the kids: He needs a beer with a friend? Tell him to go. She needs a trip to the mall with her BFF? Send her. Honor your other half's need for alone time, and help make it happen.
5. Check in when you're apart: Just check in to see how the day is going. On days when my husband and I can't connect much face-to-face, we rely on a virtual connection. It's better than nothing!
6. Schedule a date: News flash: It doesn't have to be date night. Try to sneak away for a walk or even coffee at least once a month—or more, if you can swing it.
7. Remember, you're not a mind reader: ASK one another how your day was or what your partner needs—and if he doesn't ask, just tell him. It will save many hurt feelings.
8. Go heavy on the compliments: Every day, compliment your partner. Simple. Effective.
9. Pick your battles: There are so many times when I bite my tongue! Sometimes, you'll need to do the same with your partner.
10. Remember why you're in this: We spend time reminiscing and looking at pictures from our times before our kids. It helps me to remember that I fell in love with a person, independent from his role as a parent.
Kara Lawler is a mother, wife and teacher. She writes about the divide that is mothering our children while also mothering our spirit and the sacred on her blog, Mothering the Divide. Kara writes for the Huffington Post and has been featured on the Today Show's social media sites. She's been published on Scary Mommy, Club Mid, and Mamalode. Come, join her tribe on Facebook.