There is a lot of marriage advice out there. I googled “best marriage advice” and there were millions of results. Many of them say the same things- trust, be faithful, stay committed, be patient, and forgive your spouse- these are repeated over and over (in fact, I wrote about several of these things already). And it’s not that I don’t agree with all of these things, but I think there is one thing we aren’t talking about that is the worst mistake a married couple can make. Even couples who seem to do everything right often end up making this mistake, however unintentionally.
This is the big mistake-they put their children before their marriage.
Becoming a parent changes you at your core. I know when my oldest daughter was born, I thought there was nothing more important in the whole world than taking care of her. I was the one who wanted to get up in the night. I was the best at feeding her. She only wanted me to hold her when she was tired. I knew which outfits she liked and which ones were itchy or too small. I knew every moment of her life. She became my first priority.
I think that for most couples, when you have young children your marriage does take a backseat. You spend your days tending to your baby’s needs, not getting enough sleep, lacking the energy to give much attention to your spouse. It’s very easy, especially for mothers, to become over involved in our children’s lives from the very start. And for some mothers, the relationship with their children replaces the relationship they used to have with their spouse.
I was like this when my kids were little.
Sometimes I couldn’t even muster the energy to have a conversation with Todd, let alone go on a date. I was consumed with motherhood. I didn’t want my kids to ever need anything, wait for my attention, or think they weren’t the most important thing in the world. I wanted to be a supermom. I was no longer interested in being a wife, only a parent.
Thankfully, my husband has always advocated for our marriage. He forced me early on to get out and be someone other than mom. He planned dates, trips, and time for us alone. He encouraged me to pursue things I was interested in, rather than let me identify only as mom. Often times, I dreaded being away from my girls. I would always have rather been at home than out with friends. But I am so thankful that he was persistent!
My husband and I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage in a couple of weeks. Within a couple of years, we will be empty nesters. While we will be sad to not have the girls there every day to keep us company, we have prepared our marriage for this period of our lives. We share interests and have plans for our life together, probably more than we will ever accomplish.
I understand why couples put their kids first.
And if there are any problems in the marriage, focusing on the kids is a great distraction. It gives the couple a mutual interest where there otherwise might not be one. In a home with a stay-at-home mom, this can be especially true. She spends most of the day caring for the kids and often has no time for interests outside of that.
Putting your children before your relationship with your husband not only puts your marriage in danger, it also affects your children. At some point, your kids will determine by the way you are treating them that they are the center of the universe, at least your universe. They will feel entitled to your attention which will carry over into the rest of their lives and they will expect the rest of the world to indulge their every desire as well.
So how do you put your marriage first?
I think it’s the little things that make all of the difference. There is not going to have to be a huge shift in your life in order to prioritize your relationship. It’s going to be subtle and it certainly doesn’t mean that you neglect the needs of your children. Here are some suggestions:
- Have date nights. Even if it’s dinner or a movie at home after the kids are in bed.
- Ask about how your spouse’s day was. Really ask and pay attention to the answer. Be invested in their triumphs and struggles. Pray for each other.
- Don’t allow constant interruptions from your kids.
- Talk about what you will do when your kids are grown and gone.
- Be on the same page about parenting. Decide how and when to discipline together and when you do discipline, be united.
- Text each other throughout the day about non-kid related things.
God’s design for marriage was for us to be “one flesh” with our spouses. He created children to grow up and leave their parents’ home, but he created marriage to never end. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children to model for them what a healthy relationship looks like and to be devoted to each other for your entire lives, not just the years your kids are at home.
Interested in learning more about what God wants for your marriage? Here are some of our favorite resources:
Focus on the Family: God’s Design for Marriage
The Lutheran Witness: God’s Design for Marriage
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Marriage in God’s Plan