Put Your Marriage First and Why Your Kids Need You To

How putting your marriage first makes you a better parent and leaves your children happier. Your kids NEED you to put your marriage first.

Husband and wife together

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.

Put Marriage First Pinnable Image

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.

Spouse before child pinnable image


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

This post originally appeared on this blog in June 2008

21 thoughts on “Put Your Marriage First and Why Your Kids Need You To”

  1. Valerie, This is a great post! Thanks for the reminder. I actually have a question about another topic…feel free to move my comment elsewhere if needed…Sadie Beth (now 8.5 months) is all out of whack. We have been dealing with NW for over a month now…most likely originally due to teething. I have given her comfort nursings off and on and I’m afraid that she has become used to that. Now, she is still often waking between 3:30-5:00 and usually won’t resettle on her own. Out of sleep deprivation, I’ve been nursing her – she takes a full feeding and then goes right back to sleep until 7-7:30am. I don’t like doing this, but schedule wise at least, this has been alright…if I nurse before 5am, then she is hungry when she wakes up and will nurse. If it is after 5am, she isn’t hungry to nurse when she gets up but has been eating solids for breakfast, which holds her off until 11-11:30 for her next regular feeding. However, the last couple of days she has been on another solids strike (maybe another tooth? #8!?!?) So she gets hungry right around her naptime 10-10:15am…and today screamed until I came in and fed her. I don’t think this is not being able to settle herself, but really that she is hungry…after all, she hasn’t eaten since 5:30 this morning. So, our Eat-wake-sleep cycle has been turning out to be E-S-W instead…this is bad!!! Also, I’m afraid she is getting used to getting her first “meal” at 4-5:30am…she is taking a full feeding (she hasn’t eaten since 6:30-7 the night before). I don’t think she is waking out of hunger, but is realizing that she is hungry after she wakes…kindof like you posted about a few days ago. How do I break her of this? Would it be better to hold her off from eating until 6:30-7am even if that means she is getting WAY OT from being awake from 4:30am til time for her to eat? Then when would I do the AM nap?

  2. AMEN!! This philosophy is one of the things that really attracted me to Babywise in the first place. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject.

  3. My 18-week old is still not sleeping through the night regularly and I’m lucky if he stays down longer than half an hour for his day-time naps. I started out feeding him every three hours. This seemed to work. When he reached 6 weeks old, I kept waiting to see if he would start sleeping through the night, but instead he got worse. By 12 weeks I was quite discouraged about him not sleeping through the night yet. Now he is 18 weeks and sleeps through the night (7/8 hours) about half the time or less. When he does wake up during the night, I let him cry until I can tell he isn’t going to fall back asleep on his own. Then I get him and feed him. He always goes right back to sleep for another 3 1/2 to 4 hours and this only happens once a night (anywhere between 3:30 – 5:30 a.m.). I never have trouble getting him down for his naps. He does the normal fussing for a few minutes, then falls right to sleep. The problem is that he wakes up after half and our, at the most 45 minutes and rarely resettles himself. I’ve had him on a 4 hour feeding schedule for a while because he seemed to not be hungry after only 3 hours and was taking long enough naps to make it to 4 hours at one time. Now he wakes up after 30-45 minutes is usually quite fussy, so I’ve been feeding him sooner. I can tell he is tired because he has started to fall asleep while I’m nursing him and he hasn’t done that since he was a newborn. By the time his evening nap rolls around, he is so tired from not napping well all day that he finally stays asleep. I have been waking him to give him a late evening feeding (between 10:30-11:30 to help him go longer during the night without food. Sometimes it seems to work, sometimes it doesn’t.I am wondering if I put him on a 4 hour schedule too soon. Should I go back to 3 hours? Should I stop waking him for a late evening feeding? How can I get him to sleep through the night consistently and take good naps during the day? I am still exclusively breastfeeding.From a tired mom and a tired baby

  4. Thank you for this post! This is really something I always want to work on. It’s easy now, but we only have a 4 month old so I’m sure it gets harder with older and more kids.

  5. Bonny,BW suggests not going to a 4 hour schedule until you are STTN consistently and until after you have dropped the dreamfeed (the late evening feeding). I think it is worth a shot to go back to three hours and re-institute the late evening feeding and see how that goes. My son didn’t sleep through consistently until 6 months, so hang in there! I know it is a long time without sleep. He will get there. Good luck!

  6. Kate, you are welcome! In some ways it is easier with more kids, but on the other hand, they will play with each other, so that can make it easier 🙂

  7. Bonny,i am going through almost the same exact thing with my almost 19 week old son. He sleeps 6-7.5 hours at a time at night…i am wondering if I should “cry it out”, but he always seems so hungry. I am trying today to move to a combo 3.5/3 schedule…we will see how this works! how many naps is your son taking at this time?

  8. Love this post. I needed this reminder this week. It’s too easy to put the kiddos first. Thanks for your words of wisdom, as always!

  9. This is a fabulous post. Thank you for saying this Valerie. I love the advice I received from a friend of my mother’s. “Remember that you will not always be with your children, but you will spend the rest of your life with your spouse.” This helps keep things in perspective!

  10. Thanks for the reminder. After reading this I realized a few things….1) My husband and I never hold hands anymore because one of us always has the baby when we are out. 2) Sometimes after a long/hard day alone with Abby I forget to even ask how his day was. 3) I am so tired some nights I fall asleep without even kissing him goodnight. 4) Couch time always ends up being after Abby is already in bed for the night. I am glad I read this post or I may not have even realized how many things have changed since Abby was born. We talked about it last night and are definitely going to make more of an effort!

  11. Becca & Nathan,It’s nice to know there are other mom’s out there going through the same thing! I’m glad I found this blog.My son takes about 4-5 naps a day, but most of them end up being less than an hour. I did put him back on a three hour schedule today and am hoping this helps. Sometimes my son wakes at night about 4-5 hours after his last feeding. I wait as long as possible before going to feed him to see if he will resettle himself. Last night he did and slept for another 4 hours. Usually I give him a wake time after his first morning feeding, but this morning I was too tired and put him right back to bed and he slept for another 3 hours. I guess he was tired too.Sleeping 6.5-7 hours at night is good! I wouldn’t let him cry it out yet. He will probably lengthen it on his own when he is ready.

  12. Abby’s Mom,I hear you! Things change. And of course they do because they are different, but those expressions of love take a lot more effort once you are caring for your kids 🙂

  13. Melissa,I did a post today that mostly covers what I would do. I would work to get a set game plan, be united, and stick with your plan (though you should evaluate it to make sure it is the right plan). Express your feelings to your husband. Teel him what you are seeing and how you are interpreting it. It is likely that his motivations are very different from your interpretations. Be sure to see todays post (Uniting as Parents)

  14. Melissa,It’s very normal for babies to be fussy in the evenings. I would talk to your husband and find a system that works for both of you and keep each other accountable. For example, my husband always gives our son his evening feeding from a bottle (expressed breast milk) and his bath. Then we read a Bible passage together, sing a song, and then put our son in his crib for the night. Before we leave his room, we pray. Our son always goes to sleep after a little or no fussing. Just last night we decided we had enough of the middle of the night waking for feedings. Our son is almost 6 months old and old enough to not need the nourishment during the night. So together, this is what my husband and I decided to do. For 3-4 nights we will put him to bed like normal. I will give him a dream feed sometime between 10-11. Then there will be no more feedings until 5 or 6 am (7 hours later). If our son wakes, my husband gets up to check on him, re-swaddle him, etc., but I do not. He will do this every 15 min.-30 min. until our son goes back to sleep or until it’s time for me to feed him at 5/6 am. It will be a little rough, but we’ve tried everything else. If after 3/4 nights our son is still waking, my husband will check on him less and less until our son gets the idea that crying during the night does not get him mommy or daddy. I think he will start resettling himself during the night once he realizes that. This is our last resort.Since your baby is only 3ish weeks old, he’s still in the getting used to a routine stage. I think the best thing would be to decide together with your husband what kind of routine you want to be on and start doing it. Eventually the baby will catch on. Our son woke up sometimes during the nigh when he was that age because of gas. We always kept the lights as dim as possible and put him back to bed as soon as we helped him get rid of he gas. Sometimes if you just put them down to cry, they will go back to sleep. At times that was all we could do.

  15. Thank you so much for this blog! I am so excited to find information and encouragement. My question is about couch time and putting your spouse first. My son is 3 months old and my husband is currently stationed in Korea. He is in the Army. He as spent a total of 20 days with us since my son's birth. he will get to come home for a month when my son is 8 months old. then he will have to go back to Korea until my son is 13 months old. Do you have any suggestions for me when it comes to putting my marriage first? I know GFI promotes your baby being a welcome addition to the family, not the center of the family. How can i do this when it's just me right now? I'm worried for the transition of when my husband comes home for a month, then leaves, then comes home for good. thank you so much!

  16. Laura, this is a tricky one. I haven't ever experienced such a thing on a long-term scale, so I don't have personal experience offer. One thing I would say is that this is your situation and just expect there to be need for adaptation after things change. Know it and expect it. Another thing I would do (and I assume you do) is to show him picturs of Daddy and talk about him a lot. Another thing would be for you to try to maintain a parent/child relationship and not let your child move into the place of your spouse even though your spouse ins't around. Try to act as though it is a family dynamic. This can be tricky. I think this is hard enough for moms to do when dad is right in the room much less half-way around the world :)There will be adjustment for everyone. If you expect that, it should make it easier for you to handle mentally.


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