Hollywood is boasting a bevy of babies. Jennifer Garner and Kelly Ripa are known for focusing on their families, while maintaining busy careers. Robert Downey Jr. and his wife, Susan, are rapturously cradling a new baby boy. Not only that, but Angelina Jolie is rumored to be pregnant again. How do these celebrities manage to keep their romantic relationships strong with the many demands of having a career and children?
Drs. Charles D. Schmidt and Elizabeth A. Schmidt conducted a 25-year study of couples who had been happily married for 30 years or more to find out what makes love last. They found seven secrets to building a happy and successful marriage. That’s not easy to do with a carful of kiddos–but as these celebrity moms and dads show, it can indeed be done. Here’s how:
1. Reach Out and Touch Him. Whether it’s squeezing his hand while serving mac and cheese, resting your head on his shoulder while watching The Little Mermaid for the millionth time, or giving him a pat while he’s changing a diaper, take time to touch. When couples are truly connected, even doing dishes together can be an aphrodisiac.
2. Focus on the Positive. Men can be lazy when it comes to the kids. They skip out on dinner dishes and linger too long at the basketball court when they should be giving the kids a bath. But your man has got great traits, too–otherwise, you wouldn’t have married him. Happy couples focus on the positive and, as a result, feel positive emotions for their partners.
3. Worry about Him. Happy couples worry about each other. For instance, they worry about each other’s welfare, not about whether the other is cheating. Positive worrying is easier said than done. Sometimes, I get so focused worrying about my kids, I don’t give my husband, Jeff, a second thought. He’s a big boy, I think. He can worry about himself. But the Schmidts’ comprehensive study revealed that worrying about each other is vital to a long-term, happy relationship. So, take time to worry about whether his meeting went well, if he won the big lunchtime racquetball game or whether his new shoes are giving him blisters.
4. Write Your Future Together. As busy parents, sometimes we can barely think about today, much less tomorrow. And 10 years down the road? Fuhgetaboutit. But happy couples think long-term. Jeff and I have an outlandish dream. We are going to make millions and buy a beachfront property on Strands Beach in Dana Point, California. Will this ever happen? Probably not. But we have a great time talking about it, and it reminds us that we will still have each other when the kids are grown. So, while you’re bored at your daughter’s soccer game or sitting through The Wizard of Oz (again!), take time to talk about your hopes, dreams and plans for the future.
5. Be a Cheerleader. We all want to have someone in our corner, rooting for us to throw the knockout punch in the ninth round. Content couples, the Schmidts found, focus on each other’s wants and needs. When it comes to kids, this means treating your partner as an individual instead of “just” a mom or dad. So if your guy is like mine and wants to go to Bandon Dunes with his buddies for his 40th birthday, you should let him. And don’t be like me and try to guilt him into taking you with him.
6. Preoccupy Yourself. Satisfied couples are preoccupied with each other. I have the good fortune of being surrounded by friends with happy marriages. One friend is often caught staring at her husband’s picture and commenting, “Isn’t he hot?” to no one in particular. Another friend drops her husband’s name (and opinion) in nearly every conversation. Still another is giddy whenever her husband is about to return from a work trip. And the amazing thing is that these women have been married for 15 years or longer. No marriage is without flaw, but my friends have the preoccupation part perfected.
7. Express Your Love. The final characteristic of happy couples is being able to express love. This doesn’t necessarily mean saying the words, but it does mean getting the point across. I knew Jeff truly loved me the day I vomited out the car window–and he cleaned it up with McDonald’s napkins while I sat my pregnant self down to a burger and fries. Whether it’s a romantic card or his favorite plate of nachos, make sure to express your love in a way he’ll understand.
Children will change your life–anyone who has had one will agree. But it is possible to have happy children, a busy work schedule, and a thriving romantic relationship. Just make sure to lock the door, brush the cracker crumbs from the bed and steer clear of the misplaced baby toys that wedge themselves between the blankets.
Amy Osmond Cook, Ph.D. is a faculty associate at Arizona State University, where she teaches Communication and English classes. She is the publisher of Sourced Media Books and co-author of Hope After Divorce and Full Bloom: Cultivating Success. Amy and her husband, Jeff, have five children and look forward to welcoming baby #6 in April 2012. For more information about Amy, please visit amyosmondcook.com.