You ask any couple, and they will say that their relationship changed upon the birth of their first child. It can cause a lot of stress to the marriage. With each subsequent child, couples can get so wrapped up in raising their children that their marriage takes a back seat. There is a lot of pressure to be the perfect parent. I get it. But part of what is best for our children is to have a strong marriage.
You might think you only put your kids before your marriage when they were younger. But old habits die hard, and often we continue them even when our kids are grown.
Signs to look for:
- The majority of your conversation revolves around your children and what is going on in their lives. It might feel like the only thing you have in common anymore. If you aren’t talking about the children, you don’t have anything to talk about.
- Your children are putting a strain on your finances. Yes, kids cost a lot of money, but are you giving them more than they need, putting pressure on the finances you and your spouse will have to enjoy in retirement? This might be bailing them out of financial difficulties they’ve created for themselves or continuing to support adult children.
- You feel more loyalty to your children than to your spouse.
- You are more kind, compassionate, and empathetic to your children than you are to your spouse.
- You undermine your partner by talking to your children about them.
- You put more time and energy into your relationship with your children than you do in your marriage.
Listen, don’t think I’m passing judgment. This was me. I did it for years! Sometimes it’s one partner, sometimes another, and sometimes both. Daddies are just as guilty as mamas.
4 Steps to Get Your Priorities Straight
- Assess your relationship with your spouse in comparison to your children. An excellent way to assess is by going back to the list I gave you earlier and seeing if any of them fit. I think you should ask your spouse to do this as well. You might start the conversation off with, “Hey, I listened to this podcast, and I’m thinking we might be putting our children before our marriage. Let’s sit down at a good time and go over some of the questions.”
- This is the hard part because you will be asking your spouse for feedback on your answers. After all, sometimes our spouse sees things we don’t see and vice versa. For instance, you don’t think you favor your kids over your spouse, but they feel differently. Your spouse may think they are loyal, but you believe they always side with the kids. Don’t take a defensive stance. Be open and curious about each other’s thoughts and feelings, whether you agree or disagree. Ask them to give you examples of what they see. This is a discovery of what you might be doing and are not even aware of. I know I wasn’t.
- After discussing the issue with your spouse and giving each other feedback, ask yourself what needs to change individually and collectively. What needs to change if you already know or your spouse brings to your attention that you are more attentive to your kids than them? You can even ask your spouse, “What can I do that you would know I’m putting our marriage first?” Or “What can we do to put our marriage first?” “What boundaries do we need to set with our kids for our marriage to be our priority?” If you know you are doing something, own it to your spouse. If the shoe fits, right?
- Make a plan and execute it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. This is a hard habit to break.
My husband and I slip back into bad habits all the time. But being more aware of things makes us quicker to notice them and correct them. We give each other permission to tell the other when we see them putting the children before the marriage. You must be open to your spouse’s input. Those who accept the influence of their spouse have happier marriages.
Some of the changes might need to make mean you have to set some boundaries with your kids and have your spouse’s back. Maybe you have an adult child working but living at home for free, and it is tying you both down. It might need to encourage them to launch. If you are financially giving too much to your kids, you may have to clarify what new limits you need to set. It is about what is best for the marriage
Know that putting your marriage first means a healthier marriage and healthier family relationships. Our children are very intuitive about the strength of our unions. When we prioritize the relationship, they see a strong foundation for the family. It garners their respect. It is also a way to show them what a healthy marriage looks like.
Whatever you put before your spouse will negatively affect your relationship.