When my husband and I were dating, it was so easy to be romantic.  We’d write little love notes to each other, hold hands while we studied in the library, make dinner together, and enjoy long, uninterrupted conversations while we picnicked under a tree or took long drives through a nearby canyon.

Over the past twelve years, we’ve grown deeper in love as we built our family, moved nine times, worked through thousands of life challenges, and spent hundreds of Saturday mornings making the family’s favorite omelet recipe together.

But now whenever we even get close to gazing into each other’s eyes, we hear someone yell, “I need help in the bathroom!” or “What’s seven times three?” or “So and so just used a mean voice!”

Creating a marriage that leaves you feeling twitterpated at the end of each day doesn’t happen automatically–especially when you have children, but here are seven ideas that have helped me to savor the opportunity I have to live with my Prince Charming (and then I desperately need advice on how to keep romance alive during the teenage years because I have about 23 months until that becomes my reality).

(1) Cut out as many extracurricular activities as possible.  This might seem totally unrelated, but running ourselves ragged all day isn’t going to leave us in a loving mood.  When I feel tempted to sign my children up for seven new classes in our community, I stop and ask, “Would my children prefer to have stellar athletic skills or parents with a strong marriage?”  Some moms can handle a busy schedule better than I can, but if something’s got to give, it’s not going to be my marriage.  For more inspiration on this, read the book Momfidence by Paula Spencer.

(2) Take a nap.  My husband gets a little smirk on his face when I tell him that I’m taking a nap for him, but it’s the honest truth (okay, I’m also taking a nap for me, but it’s mostly for him).  When I’m well-rested, I have more energy to devote to our marriage–or at least I won’t be an emotional wreck by the time the children are tucked in bed. Even a quick nap in a car during a lunch break can do wonders.  Read Mommy’s Naptime 101 for more ideas.

(3) Protect “Mommy-Daddy-After-Dinner Time.”  No matter how busy our schedule, I often find there’s a 15-minute lull after dinner before the evening’s activities begin.  This is when mom and dad get to snuggle on the couch and talk about their day while the children sit closely or play quietly.   I read this years ago in the book Babywise, and it’s stuck with me.  Why would we want to create a home that is child-centered?  It needs to be family-centered, and that means mom and dad deserve some time together.  When my husband and I are able to connect each day–really connect–the entire family benefits.

(4) Early bedtimes for the kids.  I know my views on this are a little odd, but hear me out.  When children are in bed early, parents have more time together, and you end up with well-rested children.  When I had three preschoolers, I’d bathe them at 4 pm, dress them in their pajamas, and then feed them dinner when my husband got home around 5:30 (minimizing messy dinners like spaghetti).  Then it was easy to tuck everyone in bed at 6:30 (with a basket full of books and a nightlight clamped to their bed) and have “lights out” by 7.  People give me a hard time about this, but seriously, when I’m relaxing on the couch at 7:15, snuggling with my husband, that’s a nice feeling.  We’ve pushed back the bedtimes now that our oldest is 11, but I still have a “mommy shut down time” inspired by Parenting with Love and Logic.  If my children want to stay up a bit, that’s fine, but I’m off duty.

(5) Focus on all the reasons you appreciate each other.  I won’t pretend that there aren’t hundreds of distractions working against us in the romance department, but we can’t let them completely take over our lives.  Today I need to repair the brakes on our van, reorganize the website content for Power of Moms, return our library books, host a play group, and complete dozens of other tasks (just like you . . . I know I’m not alone here), but in the midst of all that, I can think about why I love my husband, and I can let him know I love him.  A quick text message saying, “Thanks for buying me flowers this week” or “I think you’re very handsome” can go a long way.  One day he wrote love messages all over our bathroom mirror with dry erase markers, and I loved it.

(6) Dance to love songs as a family while you tidy the house together.  I don’t know what it is, but as soon as we turn on a song like “The Promise” by When in Rome, we are overflowing with happy feelings.  Sometimes when we’re doing our evening clean-up, we’ll crank up the love songs, and my husband and I will start ballroom dancing and stealing kisses in the kitchen.  Our children pretend to be annoyed and often say things like, “Not in front of us!” or “Eww, that’s gross,” but we know it’s good for them to see us in love.

(7) Make your date night a priority.  I did an informal poll of my friends as to how they keep romance alive while raising a family, and across the board, date night was a must.  Just because we’re married doesn’t mean the courtship is over.  If you can swing it, go on a vacation without the children, but even if a vacation isn’t feasible or finances are tight, dating doesn’t have to be complicated.

One friend told me about a couple who would go to the market and buy a half gallon of ice cream.  Then they would just sit and talk in the car (trying not to talk about the children the whole time).  My friend JoEllen told me that her husband Mark will help get the babysitter and then help out with the Saturday jobs so they have the time to date and it won’t be a hassle for her.  Another friend reminded me that “a babysitter is cheaper than a divorce lawyer.”

When my husband was in school, there were lots of families with young children in our apartment complex, but zero teenagers or grandparents who could babysit.  We set up a swap where one Friday night a month, we would watch nine children, and then we had three Fridays to go out on dates.  Those were some busy years, but I know the reason we’re so in love today is because we have consistently made time for each other.

However you decide to do it, growing a great marriage requires creativity, work, and dedication, but when your marriage isfull of love and romance, there’s no doubt that it’s absolutely worth the effort.

QUESTION: What helps you build your marriage, even when you’re juggling the responsibilities of a family? (Those of you with teenagers, especially, please share your thoughts!)

CHALLENGE: Pick one thing you can do this month to make your relationship great.

*Photo by www.freedigitalphotos.net/kongsky

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donny osmond home

Said this on 2-11-2011 At 10:34 am

April, thanks for the great ideas.  Along the lines of appreciating our spouses…in 2009 I wrote down EVERY day something I love and appreciate about my husband.  It was so powerful for me and it was a great expereince for both of us when I gave him a book that I made for Christmas with all 365 reasons!

Shawna Woodworth
Said this on 2-12-2011 At 07:58 pm

April, thank you for sharing your wisdom with the rest of us. My husband and I read your suggestions together and both appreciated your many ideas.

And I love the other comment too. I have found that the thoughts I feed my mind regarding my husband are very powerful–both for good or ill. Thinking positive thoughts is one thing I can do for our relationship that requires no extra time and no extra money. Plus, plus.

It’s amazing to me how often the answer always seems to be: FOCUS.

Said this on 2-14-2011 At 09:30 pm

Love these ideas.  Somebody recently told my husband and I that they could tell we had a good marriage. (How they can ‘tell that’ I do not know…) But, though of course our relationship isn’t perfect, I attribute a lot of our happiness and satisfaction to putting each other before our children.  One day kids will grow up and leave home, I don’t want to look at my husband then and not recognize him anymore.  Great insight April!

April Perry
Said this on 2-16-2011 At 07:58 pm

Thanks, Ladies! You are excellent examples to me!

Said this on 2-18-2011 At 09:59 pm

Great article with very practical things to do!  Excited to try a few with MR.  Cutie.

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