Feb. 13, 2014 at 8:48 AM ET
It's one of the mysteries of large families like the Duggars, of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting" fame: How do they do it?
Not how do they manage that many kids, though that's a good question, too. But how do they do IT?
Once you have, say, 10 children, how on earth do you find the energy and motivation to make kids 11-19?
TODAY Moms asked, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar answered. Whatever you think of their large family and reality TV show, let's give credit where it's due: They honestly seem to be quite in love with each other, and they know a thing or two about keeping the sexual sparks alive. Just in time for Valentine's Day, and exclusively for TODAY Moms, the Duggars offer couples the following advice for romance after (lots of) kids:
1. Say yes to sex, even when you're tired. Michelle says a friend gave her advice to live by before she and Jim Bob married in 1984: "She said, 'In your marriage there will be times you're going to be very exhausted. Your hubby comes home after a hard day's work, you get the baby to bed, and he is going to be looking forward to that time with you.'" — she's talking about sex, just so everyone's clear — "'Be available. Anyone can fix him lunch, but only one person can meet that physical need of love that he has, and you always need to be available when he calls.'"
At the time, as a young bride-to-be, Michelle says, she couldn't imagine ever not wanting to "be available" for some quality married nookie. But with kids, she soon realized, exhaustion can easily extinguish romance. So she's made an effort to follow her friend's advice — and with no birth control and 19 kids, it would seem she's succeeded. "That has been such a lifesaver for our marriage," she tells TODAY Moms.
Seems to be working for Jim Bob, too: "We're like a newlywed couple every day!" he enthuses.
2. But give it a rest sometimes. It's not all sexytime at the Duggars. They abstain when Michelle has her period, and also after childbirth: 80 days before sex if it's a girl, 40 days after a boy. (The timeline for abstinence after childbirth is loosely based on Old Testament traditions, but is more about what works for their marriage than about observing religious law, the Duggars say.) A bit of abstinence, they've found, does make the heart grow fonder.
"When you've missed it for seven days, you look forward to it even more," Michelle says.
3. Treat your wife like a queen. Lest you think Duggar romance is all about the baby-making, they note that emotional intimacy is important, too. Even in the whirlwind of raising 19 kids, they do little things like sending each other "I love you" texts, calling each other "Sweetie," and kissing in the kitchen. Jim Bob seems to put Michelle on a pedestal; and to be fair, she does the same to him.
"That's key in a relationship, the husband needs to cherish his wife and always treat his wife like a queen," Jim Bob says.
4. The strong, silent type is overrated. "He shares his heart with me, his struggles, his fears and his dreams," Michelle tells TODAY Moms. "Many men would not do that, but God's word says that before honor comes humility. When he learns to humble himself before God and me, it builds him up so much in my eyes."
5. Perfectionism kills romance. While many of us are trained to be detail-oriented and strive for perfection at work, Jim Bob says bringing that attitude home can be a relationship-killer. Withholding praise makes your loved ones lose that loving feeling. "Expectations ruin relationships," Jim Bob warns.
6. Make time for date night. Michelle and Jim Bob go out, just the two of them, every Saturday night. Sure, they often end up talking about the kids, but it's still an important time for them to reconnect. They usually go to Michelle's favorite ice cream shop. "It's a really special time," Jim Bob says.
7. Never stop learning. After 30 years of marriage and 19 kids, Jim Bob and Michelle are still interested in discovering others' advice for a happy partnership. They recently met an Amish couple who'd celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and asked them their secret. Their answer? The phrases, "I was wrong" and "Will you forgive me?"