Before kids, Josh and I went to movies not rated G and ate at restaurants not offering Styrofoam cups. We spent our weekends doing whatever we wanted, staying up late, and sleeping in later.

Then we became parents. And our entire universe shifted. Psychological thrillers were exchanged for films featuring talking animals. Those overpriced, chef-prepared meals turned into a quick drive-thru at Chick-fil-A. Even dinners at home became a frenzied rush to feed an overtired, hungry toddler before we all started crying.

And doing whatever we wanted? We traded impromptu getaways for play dates at the park.

But it wasn’t just our schedules and interests that took a drastic turn. Our relationship was not the same as it was in the pre-parent world. I no longer felt sexy and confident in my husband’s presence. I felt tired, frumpy, and the farthest thing from desirable.

Even simple conversation took a hit. Days would go by without meaningful talks between the two of us. We were slowly drifting away from each other.

The worst part? We didn’t even notice.

Connecting with your spouse

For most couples, it’s a slow fade from connect to disconnect in marriage. I think this is especially true for parents. The long nights, the demands of parenting, conflicting work schedules, too many commitments, or even the struggles of blending a stepfamily … it all adds up over time. That’s why it takes effort for couples to stay connected emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Disconnecting is easy—it sneaks up on you while you’re busy doing life.

A husband and wife connecting as one is God’s original design for marriage (Genesis 2:24). Jesus reaffirmed this when the Pharisees tried to trap Him with questions about the lawfulness of divorce. Jesus replied, “Have you not read … ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?'” (Matthew 19:3-5). God knew two would be better than one. “Hold fast” to your spouse, even during the busy (and temporary) season of raising children.

So what are a busy mom and dad to do? How do you even begin connecting with your spouse? The following suggestions can help even the busiest of parents feel closer.

1. Remember that flirting isn’t just for the dating years.

It’s hard to playfully flirt with each other when it seems you rarely see your spouse. That’s why it’s all the more important.

Flirting is something reserved for your spouse only (if it isn’t, time to do a heart check). It conveys to your spouse that you remember you are more than just roommates raising tiny humans. It reminds them you are still attracted to them and helps set the stage for physical and emotional connection, as well.

2. Check in with each other often.

If the morning has passed and I haven’t heard from Josh, I’ll call or send him a quick text. I don’t want to bother him at work, but I want him to know he’s on my mind. Let your spouse know you are thinking about them even when they aren’t there. It reminds your partner they are a priority to you.

Wake early to have coffee together before the kids are up, or schedule a weekly breakfast to map out the week together so you are on the same page. Make your spouse a priority.

What could your family do with 500 Hours? Take the challenge.

3. Schedule a weekly or monthly date.

I know weekly is ideal, but I don’t know many parents who can make that a reality. So if you don’t already have a scheduled date night, I encourage you to start with one a month. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just some kid-free time for you to enjoy each other.

Dating your spouse reminds you what you loved about them in the beginning and keeps you connected with the person they’ve become. And please don’t let money be an issue. If all you can do is enjoy a meal by candlelight at home after the kids finally fall asleep, so be it. Enjoy every second.

4. Don’t neglect the bedroom.

Physical oneness in your marriage is vitally important. So much that Paul addresses the marriage bed in 1 Corinthians: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (7:5). Physical intimacy doesn’t just keep you connected to your spouse, it safeguards your marriage.

That said, a healthy sex life can only exist if you have healthy intimacy in other areas of your relationship. If your sex life isn’t where you think it should be, that’s worth a conversation with each other and maybe a counselor. Sex should never be used as a threat, coercion, or other means of manipulation. Sex is a gift, treat it as such.

(Worth a read: “More Than Sex: How to Spice Things up in the Bedroom.”)

5. Pray with (and for) each other regularly.

In Matthew 18, Jesus says, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (19-20). God is with you and your spouse when you come together to pray.

I know this is easier said than done. Fourteen years after saying “I do,” and Josh and I still haven’t nailed down praying regularly outside of mealtimes. We’ll get a groove going and then life gets in the way again. And the longer the time in between, the more awkward it feels. But I can honestly say the biggest breakthroughs in our marriage have come following prayer with my husband.

6. Offer one another lots of grace.

Parenting is hard. It can (and probably will) cause some disagreements between the two of you. Give your partner lots of grace. My husband works a crazy, frequently changing schedule. He needs me to be forgiving and understanding when he has to miss something occasionally. I need the same when I overschedule our family because it can be hard for me to say no.

You and your spouse are going to mess up at times. You’ll slip off track and drift away from each other without meaning to. Give your relationship some grace, as well.

Don’t worry about checking off every item in this list. This is not a checklist. Pick one you can do today. Send your husband a flirty text. Call grandma to watch the kids and pick your wife up for a last-minute dinner date. It’s not about perfection. No matter how long it’s been, you still have time to reacquaint yourself with your spouse.

Copyright © 2019 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Lisa Lakey is the managing editor of digital content for FamilyLife. Before joining the ministry in 2017, she was a freelance writer covering parenting and Southern culture. She and her husband, Josh, have been married since 2004. Lisa and Josh live in Benton, Arkansas, with their two children, Ella and Max.