First Comes Love
It's common sense that you shouldn't ruin a happy marriage for the sake of your children. And it's unlikely that anyone sets out to do so. But it happens a lot. We get caught up in babies, school, sports schedules, and music lessons. We spend so much time taking care of the lives we have created that we neglect to take care of our marriage.
And shouldn't we make sure our children are taken care of? Too many couples put their marriage on pause to raise their children and forget to breathe life into it. Then, their children are grown (it happens in the blink of an eye, believe me) and they find themselves sitting across from a stranger at the dinner table.
When one or both partners prioritize their childrens’ needs and happiness above their marriage, they make it easy to neglect their marriage. Over time, these little acts of neglect cut holes in the fabric of their love. Eventually, when not cared for the couple ends up with a piece of fabric too torn to mend.
One of the most common complaints I hear from couples is that one (or both) of them feels unimportant, or even that the relationship itself is not important. The relationship may have been pushed back due to work, kids, family, or outside obligations. Sometimes this is a limited time circumstance or a demanding project at work. More often though, it is a pattern that the couple has fallen into.
We fall into patterns easily, they don't require thought or mental labor. It's simpler to fall into parallel lives, each coming together only at certain times. Never is this more apparent than in the fog of young children when there are so many demands on both partners, but this happens at all stages.
I hear from couples where one partner has taken up a new hobby that takes all of their time. Sometimes a person is a workaholic and neglects their family completely, including their spouse. This can create contempt in a relationship.
I often hear women who will list “It's kids, pets, family, friends, and then my husband” when asked about the order of effort that they give to their relationships.
Men will often say, “Work, kids, hobbies, wife” when asked the same question. And men will more often vocalize how different things became once they had children as their wife's attention was divided.
Is it any wonder that so many marriages are failing when we are failing to prioritize them?
What About the Kids?
This is the next most common objection. There is a strong cultural bias toward prioritizing the needs of the children over the needs of the parents. It is to the point where parents are expected to cater to their children. As parents, we are expected to accommodate, anticipate, and provide for our childrens’ every need. This might be an attempt by a generation of parents whose own parents were less involved to “do it right.”
The result is children who grow up with the expectation that the world is going to cater to them like their parents did. It creates a sense of entitlement and a higher expectation for what they will be given. In short, it's setting them up for a more difficult time as an adult.
Now, no one is advocating ignoring or neglecting your children. And it is important to make sure they have everything they need, and some of what they want. But it is equally important to teach them that sometimes they don't come first.
It is also important for parents to model a good marriage for their children. This ensures that when the children grow and find a partner, they are able to navigate their relationships successfully.
Waiting Until the Kids are Grown
Equally destructive is putting your marriage on the back burner until the children are grown. If you've neglected your marriage while raising kids, you may one day find your partner unrecognizable. It takes roughly 25 years to raise children, it can be more with multiple children. That is a long time to be neglected.
Over that length of time both partners accumulate resentments by not having your adult needs met. Your spouse is not a roommate and you should not live like you are.
Putting Your Spouse First for a Happy Marriage
What does “putting your spouse first” mean and what does it look like in real life?
In theory, it's simple. Honestly, it's just about focus and communication. A happy marriage is where you choose to make your partner happy. Then, your partner will desire to make you happy.
It should go without saying, but it is important to not put anything ahead of your spouse. That should include work, friends, and hobbies.
Here is a list of ways you can prioritize your spouse:
- Check in with each other regularly.
- Treat each other with courtesy, love, and respect.
- Start the morning on a good note, make their coffee, or warm up the shower for them.
- Adjust your expectations.
- Hug. Often.
- Hold hands.
- Say “yes” as often as you can.
- Flirt – even if it's via text message.
- Say I love you. Daily.
- Make sure both partners feel equal.
- Remember it's your partnership vs. the problem.
- Eat dinner together.
- Make time for date nights.
- Understand what makes your partner feel loved.
- Talk about things that aren't related to work/house/kids.
- Find a hobby you both enjoy and share it.
- Discuss parenting decisions together.
- Notice when your partner needs help.
- Help them without being asked.
- Surprise them with something sweet.
- Make their favorite meal.
- Plan a date.
- Write a love note.
Most of these are small, easy to do tasks that don't seem difficult. It's the lack of presence of these small, seemingly insignificant tasks that creates a shaky foundation to your marriage. And a strong marriage cannot be built on a weak foundation.