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We’ve all been taught (and society dictates) that marriage is the foundation of the family and families are the bedrock of society. We’re told to prioritize our partners above all others. We’re told not to let anything or anyone come between ourselves and our partners. In reality, it’s difficult to adhere to these societal ideals, especially once our families start growing and the children start coming.
It’s often a struggle to balance the needs of your partner, your children, your work, your friends and extended family, let alone being true to yourself and your own needs. Like it or not, children have a unique way of making themselves a top priority and often even a higher priority than the relationship between parents. In some ways this is normal and most relationships survive the challenges that parenting brings, but what do you do when the children come between you and your partner? How do you shift back to focus on your romantic relationship and restoring order?
Most marriage counselors and relationship experts will tell you never to put the needs of your children above the needs of your spouse –ever. However, before we proceed, we need to make a distinction between “needs” and “love.” Clearly the love we feel for our spouses is different from the love we feel for our children. We’re told as parents that we need to be “child-centered” or “child-centric,” but at what cost?
The family benefits from a strong marriage. The marital relationship is the foundation of the family, it’s the stability and consistency families need to thrive and advance. In the marriage, you and your spouse are the role models for your children. You’re modeling for them what a healthy, happy, and loving adult relationship looks like. If you pour everything into your children, your time, your money, your energy, what’s left for the relationship? When you give everything to your children, there is no energy, no heart, and no time left for each other and this can lead to a collapse of the relationship and, ultimately, the family.
Obviously, no one wants that for their family unit, which is why I’ve outlined some tried and true ways to take children out of the equation and make space and time for your partner and your relationship.
- Commit to at least a monthly date night: Ask the grandparents, your friends, or other trusted acquaintance(s) to watch your kids and hit the town. Alternatively, you could swap date nights with another family, where they watch all the kids one night so you can go out and you do the same for them another night. The point is to carve out meaningful couple time and celebrate one another.
- Set boundaries: As a couple you need to establish boundaries with your children. There needs to be limits that the children understand and that you uphold. For example, if your child interrupts you and your partner in the middle of a conversation and it isn’t urgent, make them wait until you’ve finished your conversation. Of course, don’t make them wait super long, but this tactic can help kids learn patience, respect for adult time, and to prioritize what’s really important and what isn’t.
- Bring him/her coffee every morning.
- Hug, hold hands, and touch often.
- Text/flirt/message throughout the day (i.e. “Thinking about you and hope your day is going well. xo”)
- Say: I love you and show affection for one another, in front of the kids, daily.
Honestly, putting your marriage first is about the little things and your focus. When you have to manage kids, pets, work, extended family, friends, shopping, bill paying, socializing etc. you quickly realize you have to prioritize— and that it’s humanly impossible to do it all. Making your spouse your number one priority is the first and most important step, from there it’s easy.
Bottom line: Being “child-centered” is an important thing when raising a family; and the most child-centered thing you can do is have a healthy, strong marriage.