Spending extended periods of quality time doing shared activities alone with your spouse each week is the most important way for you to deepen physical and emotional intimacy. This is especially true for remarried couples due to the complexities of daily life in a stepfamily such as blending two families, emotional baggage from former marriages, financial issues, legal matters, relationships with toxic ex-spouses, and raising children and stepchildren.
How Remarried Couples Can Make Their Marriage A Priority
When couples begin a remarriage, the most frequent mistake they make is expecting that everything will fall into place and that their love will stay strong amidst the stressors and storms of stepfamily life. If couples haven’t established a strong connection and lack the tools to repair daily breakdowns in communication, they may end up disillusioned and blame each other rather than supporting each other.
In families, the amount of time that couples spend alone and with each other, talking, or sharing activities together is a key factor in predicting their overall marital happiness, according to psychologist Eli J. Finkel. In The All-Or-Nothing Marriage, he explains that there has been a 40% decline in the last three decades in the amount of time that couples who have children spend together. The reasons include busier work schedules and chronic interruptions due to multitasking and technology.
In a stepfamily, these interruptions include the activities of your children and stepchildren. Whether you make a standing date to go to the gym, explore your neighborhood, watch a movie, go to a concert, or do another activity you enjoy, you and your partner must make a commitment to time alone each week. I know the demands of daily life seem to leave little time or money left over for relaxed, fun activities, but alone time together is part of the time and energy investment you are making in your second marriage and it will pay off.
Kendra, 47, and Jason, 48, are raising four children in a blended family, work full-time in demanding jobs, and often feel exhausted by the end of the workday. Over the six years of their remarriage, they have fallen into the trap of neglecting their relationship. Jason contacted me for coaching in order to get his marriage back on track and to feel less lonely.
Jason reflects, “Kendra complains that we don’t have time or money to go out, but I need time to recover from work and I want to spend more quality time with our kids. I’d like to get back to spending time together but it seems like she’s not interested when I mention something. She told me this was a problem in her first marriage but I guess I just had wishful thinking and hoped we’d do better.”
When Jason expressed his feelings to Kendra after our coaching session, he was relieved to discover that she shared his concerns about their marriage and was interested in spending more time together. She just didn’t see how they could do that given how short on time and money they are. Kendra was also concerned about the impact that spending more time with Jason would have on their kids. She shared her concerns openly when Jason invited her to join us for a coaching session via Skype.
After brainstorming for a while, Kendra and Jason were able to come up with low cost or free activities that fit into their budget. They decided to rotate every other Saturday night between a dinner date alone and a pizza and movie night at home with their children. Then two weeknights, they intend to go for a 30-minute walk or bike ride, activities they both enjoy. This plan satisfied both Kendra and Jason and enabled them to give their relationship the attention it needed. After a few weeks, each felt more contented.
Kendra and Jason learned an important lesson: you don’t have to choose between your partner and being a good parent. Working together to find the right balance will pay off in the end for you, your marriage, and your children and stepchildren. If parents are happier together, all family members will benefit. You are not neglecting your children by nourishing your relationship with your spouse.
It’s also crucial that remarried families have rituals to celebrate holidays, special events, and to honor the daily activities that bring them closer such as pizza or game night with the entire family.
In The Intentional Family, Dr. Doherty suggests that “rituals of connection” are an important tool for “Intentional Couples” who desire successful relationships because they need time to get to know each other and bond. He studied both first time and remarried couples and coined the term “rituals of connection” to describe a couple’s or family’s way of regularly turning towards other that can be rewarding to individuals because it’s recurring, meaningful, and satisfying to couples and family members. In other words, it’s key for remarried couples to pay attention to each other rather than ignoring one another or being distracted by technology.
Because many remarried couples are crunched for time, exercising together two or three times a week can help them stay close and healthy at the same time. Kendra and Jason believe that walking or bike riding together regularly is a good way to recharge their batteries while raising four children and maintaining demanding careers. It’s a great way to stay fit and share the joys and frustrations of their day when they are alone together.
5 ways to bring more intentional time into your remarriage:
- Put two to three hours of alone time with your partner on your calendar weekly. This time can be broken into several 30-minute intervals or spent in longer blocks of time.
- Choose activities that are pleasurable to both of you. This will make it more likely that both of you will commit. These activities can be low or no cost such as having a picnic or playing a game.
- A “Date Night” is an enjoyable way for you and your partner to spend time together on a weekly or monthly basis. For instance, you might eat at your favorite restaurant and even call ahead to reserve a preferred table.
- Take an annual vacation together without your children or relatives. This doesn’t need to be an expensive weeklong extravaganza. An overnight or weekend away at a favorite local spot, such as a campground, is all you need.
- Try something new and exciting together. Add a little novelty by learning or doing something new together. Psychologist Arthur Aron and colleagues studied dozens of couples in their laboratory and found out that sharing novel and arousing activities with a partner is the antidote for relationship boredom and brings couples closer. For instance, many couples enjoy glass blowing, kayaking, or hiking through an unexplored area.
The challenges of remarriage and stepfamily life can chisel away at the closeness of you and your spouse if you forget to make your partner a top priority. This can only truly be communicated through consistency between your actions and words. If you make your partner’s needs equal to your own, you’ll create the loving intimate relationship that you desire. Doing this requires empathy and understanding about his or her needs and the ability to really listen. It also requires ditching any baggage from your former marriage, so your remarriage can be the one you’ve always dreamed of!