Q: How do I stop letting my kids' activities run--and ruin--my relationship with my partner?

Most families are faced with the competing demands of parenthood and their intimate relationship. At varying times you probably find yourself putting more energy and time into your children. For example, some families discover that young teens require more effort and focus than older ones. Other families go through a honeymoon period in the beginning--when there are no children--while blended families often have to postpone that feeling until the children are more independent or grown.  

As one of my clients said, "If I didn't have to sleep, I'd have time for everyone--and maybe even myself." Happy and committed couples who have children know that you have to become more than a time manager. You and your partner also have to perform a juggling act and know exactly when to focus more on the plate marked Children and the one marked Partner. Every family is different, of course, and children with illnesses or disabilities, for example, can constrain and change your life with your mate. However, even families with greater parenting responsibilities still must pay attention to their intimate life. Here are some tips to help you balance your family and love life.

1. Be Selective. You don't have to attend every soccer or baseball game or every dress rehearsal dance recital. Yes, it's important for your children to see you cheering and clapping for them, but it is also important that you send your children the message that the world does not revolve around them. This lesson is especially valuable when you have more than one child. Siblings need to "share the spotlight." So put away the guilt. Besides, kids like to be "on their own" once in a while and feel that they are "beyond" needing Mom and Dad in the stands.

2. Stay Positive. Whenever you feel like a glorified errand-runner or chauffeur, think about the joy and blessings in your life. Be happy you have children, a great partner, love, health, jobs or whatever makes you realize that your complaint is small indeed. Don't get me wrong--driving clear across town three times in a day can most definitely get to you. When you aim to reduce your negativity, you reduce your stress, unhappiness and bad mood. Get creative. Use this time in the car to talk to your kids, listen to your favorite music or audio book. Bring work with you while you sit in the stands, if necessary. Finally, turn these events into family nights out where you all get together.

3. Plan Private Time.  At the end of each month sit down with your partner and go over the calendar for the coming month. Are there events you can attend together?  Find at least one night a month for just the two of you. Can't afford babysitters--or don't know of any? Start a babysitter consortium amongst your friends. 

4. Keep the Sexual Spark. Intercourse is just one part of the glue that keeps closeness and satisfaction alive. Get generous with your hugs, love pinches and grabs--away from the children, of course. Compliment your partner on their hair or clothes. During especially busy weeks, leave love notes, send sexy e-cards. Making each other feel special and appreciated can bridge weeks of tight schedules.

5. Create New Traditions, Strengthen Old Ones. It's important for family unity to continue to celebrate birthdays and holidays. Children need the predictability of family traditions. They provide the emotional scaffolding that makes children feel safe. But don't forget to create your own unique traditions. Celebrate A's on projects, braces coming off or have a family Un-birthday party like in Alice in Wonderland. One of the best family--and personal--experiences is to participate in charity. Before the holiday season, for example, ask each child (and you and your partner as well) to go through their drawers and closets and toys and give them to charity.

6. Be Flexible. Life events such as illness or job loss can send the family down a path they least expected. These upheavals challenge the balance between parenthood and partners. Make sure to talk to your mate and your children about the new changes.  Remind everyone that there is enough love and determination to work together as a team.

7. Laugh.  Families and couples who do fun and silly things tend to feel closer. Laughter truly can be the best medicine. Watch funny movies and do anything that your family might enjoy. For example, make Dad show you whether he really is the golfer he thinks he is. Go to miniature golf and see if Dad can really outsmart those windmill blades that spin in front of where the golf ball is supposed to go.