A little PDA goes a long way with the kids if they happen to catch it between you and your spouse, says Elizabeth Lombardo, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness (Morgan James; 2009).
"As parents, we so often focus on teaching verbally, but we forget the importance of our actions," Lombardo says.
No actions are more visible — or potent — to a child than what goes on between Mom and Dad. A study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 10 years ago found that the quality of a child's parents' marriage had as much influence on his future mental and physical health and well-being as his own relationship with either parent. And while most parents know how important it is to show love and affection to kids, they can easily overlook that it's critical for the kids to see Mom and Dad love each other, too, especially with the ups and downs and busyness of daily life. Know that just as kids raised in domestically troubled homes can continue that cycle in adulthood, kids who see a loving marriage at home will carry those lessons into their own future family.
PUT YOUR MARRIAGE AT THE CENTER
The most important relationship in any family is the marital one, says David Code, author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First (Crossroads; 2018). "Making your kids the center of your life may seem child-friendly, but it can create long-term unhappiness for everyone in the family."
The best thing parents can do for their children is to purposefully love one another. To stay close, Code says simple things like sharing a highlight and a lowlight of your day is a tool that helps with intimacy and conversation — a tool that reveals what each other is going through emotionally. Being connected emotionally is the key to each other's satisfaction in the marriage.
"By making a daily effort to value one another in front of the kids you can teach your children important lessons about intimacy, conflict, and balancing work and home," Code says. Even if you're a single parent, you can demonstrate healthy relationships with friends and family members to the benefit of your child.
When you and your partner openly show affection to one another — by holding hands, hugging each other, giving each other a quick kiss on the cheek or mouth, complimenting each other and saying, "I love you," you show your kids what a healthy relationship looks like as well as helping them to feel more safe, secure and loved.
KEEP IT "G" RATED
While you shouldn't hesitate to be affectionate to all of your family members, when it comes to affection with your spouse in front of the kids, keep it simple and rated "G." Home is the place where your kids learn what a loving relationship looks like, but don't cross the boundry and make your kids feel uncomfortable — keep anything sexual private.
6 Keys for Demonstrating Love for Your Spouse in Front of the Kids
1) HOLD HANDS MORE - Your kids WILL see this and will love seeing it, Lombardo says. In the midst of the day-to-day ups and downs of family life, seeing that Mom and Dad still care about one another is very reassuring to kids.
2) HUG EASILY - Not just with your spouse, but with the kids, too. Affection is the glue that keeps growing families on solid ground.
3) KEEP SAYING "I LOVE YOU" - Saying this to each other can "fall away" in marriage, Lombardo says. You DO have to work at marriage, at keeping your intimate conversations going, at revealing yourselve to each other. Keep saying, "I love you," daily and try to never take it for granted.
4) TALK EACH OTHER UP - Say nice things about each other within the family realm, such as, "Dad did such a good job cutting the lawn, don't you think?" or "Wow, Mom sure knows how to make a killer spaghetti!" This kind of thing builds your family up, which is important.
5) SUSTAIN YOUR PARTNERSHIP - Solve problems together by not stonewalling each other. Avoid offending each other and the tendency to blame each other for things that don't really matter all that much.
6) WORK AT COMMUNICATION - If you have things you need to say, say them because if you don't say what's bothering you it won't get better. Say what's good and say what's bad, but get it out so you don't end up creating more friction and disconnect.