Posted by Rachel Mallory. 

Getting married, having children… these are probably some of the most romanticized life events. In books, in movies, on Facebook, it’s easy to find examples of people rhapsodizing about all the best parts of these experiences. The joy of falling in love, the beautiful wedding dress, the anniversary cruise, the baby photos, the feeling of a child falling asleep in your arms.

But in reality, spouses and children are the people closest to you, and therefore also the people most likely to annoy you, upset you, and tire you out. There’s the arguments about money, the sleepless nights with a newborn, the tantrums (child and adult), and just the plain old massive workload of making meals and checking homework and helping your partner cope with a bad boss, talking to teachers and paying for college and soothing everyone through anger and tears.

At the extreme, no-one can hurt you, emotionally or even physically, like your family can. The closeness means vulnerability. Brene Brown argues convincingly that vulnerability is necessary for intimacy and emotional health, but she also points out how terrifying that can be, even in relationships that aren’t abusive. (Her TED talk on this is fantastic.)

That’s the stuff that you don’t see on Facebook. But day-to-day, the romance of a relationship, and the wonder of parenting, is usually far outweighed by the daily grind.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Of course, meals still have to be made and bills paid. But most people spend far too little time having fun with their partners and their children. It just isn’t a priority. Yes, yes, date night is a great idea, but who has time for that? And we don’t have a babysitter, and we can’t afford it, and anyway you’ve been driving me crazy lately and the last thing that I want to do is actually spend time around you right now.

I have a deck of cards in my office that’s titled 52 Great Cheap Dates. On each card is a short, simple idea, things like taking a picnic to a park bench and watching the sun set, going to the library and checking out erotic poetry to read to one another, using sheets as togas and eating dinner lying down on the couch, like Ancient Romans for the night, taking a drive and listening to your favourite songs, dressing up and taking silly photos… you get the idea. And of course some of these can be family activities (not the erotic poetry, of course!), and some of them can happen at home, after the kids are in bed. This is one very important way to create memories, increase closeness and strengthen relationship and family bonds.Oh, and you might get some good Facebook photos out of it!

And yes, if a couple rarely spends any alone time and then they try to go on a date night, it’s quite likely that some kind of conflict will come up. When else have you had time to talk about it? But again, if you regularly have time with your partner to figure out issues, work through disagreements, and just talk, there will be far less simmering, unresolved, under the surface. And then the daily grind becomes far less of a grind, for the whole family.