Spring is the time things outside come alive, but for busy couples with kids, jobs and jammed schedules our relationships could use some livening up.

University of Washington sociologist and sex expert Pepper Schwartz joined KING 5 in studio to talk about finding balance in a marriage or partnership as couples raise their kids.

A lot of us feel like if everyone s making it where they need to be on time, we re good, but that s not enough, is it?

No it s not. Whether it s a family with a new baby or a couple with teens, a couple needs to be more than a well-oiled machine. It s about approaching each other the right way, cultivating the relationship and remembering that the father or mother of your kids is also, your friend and your lover.

What gets in the way of that?

Couples need to focus not just on what the child needs, and giving the child or children everything you think they need, because that can wipe out everything else. You have to figure out a way to keep your relationships relevant, and that includes friends too. So instead of telling yourself that something is impossible, for instance that there s no way you have time for coffee with a friend with that new baby of yours, maybe invite the friend over to the house during the baby s naptime and don t worry about the house or how you look.

Can you talk about the different needs that spouses might have, especially once kids come along?

Whoever is interacting with the kids, whether it s mom or dad has to have a lot of support. The non-primary caretaker has to be as appreciative as possible, as helpful as possible. Even though the other partner is usually working hard too, there is a special kind of exhaustion that comes with full time child care and acknowledgement of those efforts.

In your book that just came out, The Normal Bar , you talk about surprising secrets of happy couples, and what it might teach the rest of us. Can you share some of those secrets?

The book brings in new research on affection. We reveal how important even small acts of affection are, like holding hands, in the health of the relationship. We have data on the importance of get-away vacations, and that only one-fourth of couples take get-away vacations, but this time together is so important, because we also have studies saying 80 percent of extremely happy couples have date nights.

Some tips on addressing emotional needs:

  • Small acts of affection
  • Date night or date lunch
  • Sexuality
  • More positive communication on feelings, less criticism

Schwartz will be speaking about how couples can zest up their relationships at two seminars later this month. On May 15, she will speak at 6:30 p.m. at Seattle Children s Theatre and on May 18 at 11 a.m. at Bellevue College.

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