1. “Hiring a sitter is too expensive.”
There are ways to minimize the expense of hiring a babysitter. A neighborhood teenager is probably the least expensive way to go; they’re usually happy to sit for less than the minimum wage of $8.00. Tipping will keep you in their good graces, but it doesn’t have to be a lot.
If hiring a sitter costs too much, or if there is no one in the neighborhood, then try asking for a babysitting trade with a trusted neighbor: “You watch my kids one Friday night, and we’ll watch yours the next Friday.” This way neighborhood kids get to know each other and each couple has a chance to get away.
If you have a good relationship with your family, asking them to stay with your kids is a way to cement family bonds.
Another possibility is taking the opportunity to work from home several times a month or work a flex schedule. Going in late one day, while the kids are in school, will give you time to go for a walk or coffee. Dates don’t always have to be at night.
2. “I can’t leave my kids with anyone else.”
It is important to analyze why you are uncomfortable leaving your kids. Separation anxiety can play a role. But know that if kids pick up your anxiety about leaving them, it will reinforce their separation anxiety from you. This is a set-up for later problems such as sleepovers or summer camp. Kids need to feel secure in their knowledge that you are comfortable leaving them. That conveys trust and security, and they will internalize this so they feel secure in the world. Some parents are worried about abuse. I highly recommend Gavin de Becker’s Protecting the Gift as a useful, sane approach to such fears: http://gavindebecker.com/resources/book/protecting_the_gift/
3. “I don’t want to be alone with my partner.”
Are you avoiding intimacy with your partner? When Jim and Nancy came to counseling, they hadn’t been on any dates since their four-year was born. And with him sleeping in their bed, they had little opportunity for intimacy in their home. When the family bed becomes a deterrent to intimacy, it may be time to transition to a big-boy bed. If you are ready to explore this, Dr. David O’Grady has developed the Snooze Easy Program, which has been very helpful to parents looking to make this change. Like all avoidance behaviors, the more you avoid something the more difficult it is to do. When it’s been a long time since you’ve been alone together, returning to that intimacy can feel awkward. You may feel shy around your partner; worse, over months or years of not feeling connected, negative feelings can build up, so putting the energy into setting up a date happens less and less. Avoidance establishes a self-reinforcing pattern.
4. “When I have free time, I want to spend it with my friends.”
Scheduling book groups, school meetings, or cocktails with friends while your partner stays home with the kids doesn’t give your relationship the time and investment needed to keep it healthy. Keeping up friendships is important. But if it precludes time alone with your partner, resentment can fester. When Nancy and Jim came to counseling, Jim was often away in the evenings. He went to sporting events with his friends, had occasional late meetings at work, and frequently stopped at the gym on his way home. Nancy felt like he had no time for her. And the result? She was resentful and bitter, which served to push Jim away more so that there was no compelling reason to say no to invitations after work.
Another way couples put friends first is to go out on dates, but with their couple friends. Having friends you both enjoy is a wonderful thing; joint outings to plays, sporting events, or supper clubs can be great for relationships. But if you find that these get-togethers constitute the majority of your time together, then you need to give your relationship some just-the-two-of-you time.
5. “It’s just easier to stay home.”
Routines, like having a drink, watching TV, or playing a computer game, are comfort activities, but they can lack engagement, imagination, and energy. Some couples will do these activities together –sharing the experience—which can be fun and bring closeness.
We get passive for many reasons. Inertia is a strong force in marriage, not least because we all develop routines as a matter of course, to simplify and organize our lives. Staying with routines is easy, on the surface: you don’t have to plan what to do, no need to call a sitter or spend any money. But there is danger in this passivity. Relationships need energy and time.
You can break through inertia in several ways. Prepare a list of things you can do together that you agree would be fun and affordable. Take turns planning dates. One week, Jim arranges childcare, makes reservations, etc.; the next, Nancy. Each partner gets a week off to just relax.