How putting your marriage first makes you a better parent and leaves your children happier. Your kids NEED you to put your marriage first.
One of the best things you can do for your children is to put your spouse before your child.
To me, the principle of putting your marriage first makes perfect sense. So much sense that it never crossed my mind that other people would feel any differently.
One day, many years ago, on a social networking site for mothers, the question was posed in a general group about who comes first: the husband or the child.
The answers people gave were really split down the middle, and moms who responded husband were kind of “looked at” with disgust.
The moms who said the child said they had actually had the conversation with their spouse and they had agreed that the child comes first. I was honestly quite floored. I thought parents who put children first in the relationship did so without realizing it, not that a verbal agreement had taken place to make it that way.
What Does It Mean to Put Spouse First
There can be extreme arguments for putting children first. Some point out that if their husband abused the child in any way, they would leave, if money got tight and food was scarce, the child would be fed before the husband, etc.
You don’t have to put the child first in order to do those things.
Parents will sacrifice for their children. Parents will do what they must to make sure their kids don’t go hungry.
I can’t imagine my husband loading up his plate and leaving his children to go hungry; that just isn’t a real concern of mine. Also, putting my husband first does not mean that I would step back if he started abusing the kids in any way.
To put your marriage first does not mean you have to neglect the children as many people seem to believe. Sadly, since they think whichever comes second must be neglected, this would mean the marriage is being neglected as they put their relationship with their child first.
As a child growing up, my parents put each other first, and I in no way felt neglected. I loved to see my parents together and spending time with each other. It made me happy. They can be kind of nerdy and dress all matching; despite the nerdiness of it all, it also made me happy to see them being so cheesy and in love.
Why You Should Put Your Marriage First
I still remember when Brayden was a toddler and would see my husband and I kiss. When Brayden saw us kiss, he would giggle and get a huge smile on his face.
Knowing parents are secure in their relationship helps the child feel secure. It might seem counter-intuitive to some, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
When your children know your relationship is strong, they know their family is strong. They know their foundation is solid.
Read: Importance of Marriage
You also teach your child what a relationship should look like. Some day, your child will get in a relationship. Your child will know what to look for based on what you demonstrated to your child. They will look for someone who treats them well if you and your spouse treated each other well.
The reality of it all is that your child is going to live with you for about 18 years (some more) and then move on and do their own thing.
They go to college, they get jobs, they get married, and they have their own children.
Your spouse, however, will not (at least that is the idea). Once the kids are gone, do you really want to look at your husband and wonder who he is, what he likes to do, and if you even still like much less love him?
I have personally seen this happen in marriages. I have seen parents who put their children first have a difficult time when their kids got married. They had a hard time knowing what to do with themselves and each other.
They had a hard time letting their kids do their own things and establish a good bond with their new spouse. They were overbearing because they had nothing else to do. They ended up driving their children away because they couldn’t allow them to be individuals.
Benefits of Putting Marriage First
- A healthy marriage creates stability for a child. A child who sees couch time sees her parents working together as one.
- Anxiety over the relationship of parents can affect every other learning discipline.
- There is an example in Childwise about a toddler waking up in the night randomly. After the parents started couch time, the girl stopped waking in the night. This might sound too good to be true, but I have heard from moms that this indeed has been true for them also. For more on this story, see Chapter Two of Childwise.
- Couch time can help behavioral problems, impulsive behavior, talking back, sleep problems, and defiance (see page 40 in Childwise).
- As they say in Childwise, great marriages make great parents.
How To Put You Marriage First
Are parents being selfish when they put their kids first? Absolutely not.
I find it very easy to put the kids first. It is basically effortless to do so. Realize that you have a natural, strong, unconditional love for your children. You love them no matter what. You don’t have to “work” to love your child.
It is different with your spouse, though. You love your spouse, but you do have to work at it. Marriage requires work.
Taking care of children is a lot of work. It takes a lot of energy emotionally, physically, and mentally. It takes a lot of your time.
This is one reason I think it is important to make the decision to put your marriage first. You don’t have to try to love your children, but you have to work to love your spouse.
You can so easily become so wrapped up in your kids that your marriage relationship starts to wither, and your children can certainly see that.
Research shows that marriage satisfaction after having a baby is 42% lower today than it was in previous generations.
How can we stop that? Here are some ways to put your marriage first.
Couch time is one way to ensure that your marriage relationship has a chance to grow, and a concrete example for your children to witness.
Couch time is when you sit on the couch with your spouse and visit with each other and require the children to not interrupt you.
Read: 15 Topics to Discuss with Your Spouse
Couch time should be in the presence of your kids. Yes, your marriage will benefit from one-on-one time with each other with or without the children looking on, but them watching it helps give them a visual example that their parents love each other.
Here are some couch time tips.
- Have a set time. We all know if you have a regular time set aside for things like this, you have a great chance for success. Exercising, praying, scripture study, etc. You are more likely to succeed if you set a time.
- Make the time work for your family. It is usually advised in the Babywise books to do couch time as soon as Dad gets home from work. When our kids were little, my husband got home so early that the kids were usually asleep still. For us, we needed a different time of day to do couch time in front of the kids. Don’t think you can’t do couch time if dad gets home at a time that makes immediate couch time impossible. There are benefits to doing it first thing (shows child priorities of parents), but don’t let that prevent you from doing it at all.
- Sit and talk one-on-one for 15 minutes.
- If and when the kids try to interrupt you, you tell them that you are visiting with Daddy, Daddy is first, and then you will be happy to play with them when you are done.
- As they point out in Childwise, this has no negative side effects, so why not try it?
- You don’t have to sit on the couch. You can sit on chairs or at the table or on the bed.
- If you are just starting this up, take the time to explain what you are going to do and the rules for it (you can play quietly, you can listen, etc. but cannot interrupt us)
Date Your Spouse
Find some way to date your spouse. How that looks for you exactly will vary depending on your circumstances. You can go out on dates. You can put the kids to bed and have a date at home.
No matter where you do it, take the time and effort to make it happen.
Put Daily Effort Into Your Spouse
Find things each day to show your spouse you care. Speak to your spouse’s love language and try to show love in simple ways.
Again, it takes effort to love your spouse and to show that love. Being intentional is key here.
I know that not all people are able to do this. I know there are single parents for various reasons.
I know there are dads who travel a lot for work. I know there are families with one parent serving in the military.
You can still find ways to put your spouse first even if he/she is far from you. It is about effort. It is about intention. It is about sincerity.
If you are a family with two parents, make the effort to do put your marriage first. You will see wonderful results.
Related Marriage Posts
- How to Respond to Challenges in Marriage
- How to Develop Unity in Marriage
- How To Achieve Happiness in Marriage
- Love and Friendship in Marriage
- Managing Marriage Slumps
- Positive Communication in Marriage
- Strengthening Marriage
- How To Unite as Parents
This post originally appeared on this blog in June 2008