Relationship Advice: Grandkid-Proof Your Marriage

You spend so much time with the grandkids that sometimes your marriage suffers. How to get your relationship back on track.

By Julie Weingarden Dubin

In addition to working full-time managing a law firm, Kathleen Wilson of Alameda, California, spends three days a week picking up her grandchildren (ages 10 and 12) from school, carpooling them to activities, grocery shopping and cooking dinner until her daughter, a divorced attorney, gets home from work. Wilson’s husband eats at home to avoid the chaos. Being pulled in so many directions has made Kathleen feel like her relationship has fallen off-track. “I feel like my husband and I are growing apart,” she says. “He’s into his own little world of the computer and books-on-tape, but I can’t ask him to turn something off when I don’t get home until 8 p.m."

Wilson’s written about the modern balancing act of grandparenting for Grandparents.com in The Other Side of Grandparenting, and she's spoken about how her husband feels she’s too immersed with the grandchildren.

Overscheduled grandparenting is sign of the times. According to research published by Child Trends, 47 percent of grandparents who live near their kids offer some sort of childcare assistance and grandmothers (54 percent) are more often pitching in than grandfathers. The caregiving averages out to 23 hours a week, with employed grandparents providing more care than grandparents who don’t work.

With all this juggling, your marriage can become less of a priority, and you can drift apart. Being involved with the grandkids is often an escape for some grandparents who have been married a long time and feel like their marriage has become boring. For other grandparents, they’re so besotted with their grandchildren, they want to be with them all the time. Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., relationship advisor, therapist and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, offers relationship advice to grandkid-proof your marriage and bring back the romance.

Tip #1: Find Your “We” Time Do you know the stressors in your spouse's life—what keeps him up at night? If not, you're focusing too much on the grandkids and other things in your life, says Dr. Orbuch. Keep a calendar and schedule time with the grandkids—mark their specific activities and block off dates for you and your husband to have plans. Try for at least two date nights a month and be sure to “check in” with one another about how things are going in the relationship. “Regardless of how long you’ve been together, you need to talk and spend consistent “we” time together,” says Dr. Orbuch, who suggests practicing the 10-minute rule of talking to your partner about something other than work, family and household tasks for 10 minutes a day.

TIP #2: Set Ground Rules If grandparenting duties take up a huge amount of your time, sit down with your kids and set some boundaries. Let them know the type of involvement you’d like to have as a grandparent, but don’t wait until you feel resentful, says Dr. Orbuch. Perhaps, your children want you to moonlight as a babysitter, disciplinarian, carpool driver, friend and homework specialist, but you’re happy with baking cookies occasionally and hosting Sunday dinners. Openly discuss with your children how you feel, but don’t share your marriage concerns with your children or grandchildren. You need to set boundaries and maintain your relationship privacy.

TIP #3: Shake Things Up In Dr. Orbuch’s long-term study on marriage and divorce, couples who report that they feel bored or in a relationship rut for a long time were more likely to divorce. “In order to get out of the boredom and rut, you need to add change to your relationship,” she says. Doing something new recreates passion and romance. Buddy up for a dance workshop, fitness class or golf instruction.

Tip #4: Accenturate the Positive Focus on what’s going right in your relationship and build on those things, rather than dwelling on problems. “Write down five qualities you enjoy and like about your partner, or your relationship, and read the lists to each other,” says Dr. Orbuch. “This exercise will help you to remember why you were attracted to each other in the first place.”

Tip #5: Remember the Little Things 
Do and say something small to each other each day to make your partner feel special, seen and cared for. For example, “You’re a great father and you make my life wonderful.” Or, do something sweet like mail a greeting card to his office or bring him coffee in bed.

Tip #6: Touch and Tell
 A subtle touch in a gentle way at a time he least expects it will score you many points. Tell him you love him on a flirty sticky note or write, “What are you doing later for dinner?” He’ll really smile if you resurrect the pet name you used to call him. The idea here is to be attentive—you both want to feel like a priority to each other.

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