Kids Aren’t the Priority. Marriage Is.

How to keep your marriage healthy after having kids.

Editor’s note: Last week, TV personality and survivalist Bear Grylls made headlines for giving this piece of marriage advice in a column for the UK’s GQ: “We must prioritize our partners above everything else: even our kids. Couples often think that the kids should always come first, but smart couples know that the best foundation for the family is their relationship. In protecting that, they can then best love their children.”

Here’s a look back at a piece that we originally ran last summer that unpacks that idea, examining how spouses—not kids—should be the No. 1 priority. </em

I was concerned that becoming parents might weaken our marriage. I wasn’t afraid that it would ruin our marriage. Michael and I had made promises to God and each other to stay the course, come hell or high water. We also had—and still have—a deep friendship and camaraderie in our relationship. But I was, admittedly, nervous that having a child might throw some of that off-kilter—that, perhaps, adding another human being in the mix might strain our connection and closeness.

And you know what?

It did.

Our daughter was born on our seventh anniversary, and her birthday has become symbolic to me: Those things that were solely about me and my husband—the things that used to be just about us—those things have shifted. Even our marriage—our very anniversary—is shared, now.

And that’s a good thing.

Growing as parents without growing as spouses is putting the proverbial cart before the horse, and both the marriage and the parenting will suffer.

Because although it feels like it might rub me raw some days, getting to be a parent is a gift. God’s word unabashedly declares that children are a blessing from him (Psalm 127:3-5), that each child is intentionally created by God (Psalm 139), and that children show us a picture of what it means to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:1-3). I believe in the Bible. And I also believe my experience—my daughter is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.

But being a parent is also a gift because it can strengthen our marriages, if we are intentional about growing as parents and spouses. Growing as parents without growing as spouses is putting the proverbial cart before the horse, and both the marriage and the parenting will suffer. But the opportunity to grow as friends and lovers—as husband and wife—as we are parenting? This is a truly good gift.

Here’s how to be purposeful about growing as spouses even as we parent those small humans who are making lots of noise in the house:

Make Time Just for the Two of You

Yes, it’s going to be a lot harder to get one-on-one, meaningful time together now that you’re parents. But do it anyway; your marriage is worth it.

When Michael and I were dating, engaged and then married before becoming parents, we had so much time to be together. Time to explore the arboretum. Time to talk over long meals. Time to see movies and sleep in. Now, as parents (and remember, we only have one right now; God bless all parents of multiple children. Amen.), a lot of our time is spent doing parent-y things: feeding our child, playing with our child, reading to our child, bathing, cleaning and clothing our child. Her schedule shapes a great deal of what we can and can’t do.

So we have a weekly date night. Sometimes we get a sitter and go out. Sometimes we talk and eat ice cream and watch a movie at home after she goes to bed (Alleluia for the 7:30 p.m. bed time). But we are consistent about making time to meaningfully connect so that we can operate as friends and lovers ... and not solely as parenting partners.

Serve Your Spouse, Not Just Your Kids

Before children, it’s just easier to care for our spouse—to stop at the store and pick up a favorite cereal when we’re running low, or to refill the gas tank in the car before it drops to E. But when the days fill up with attending to the basic needs of children, we can get worn out with serving anyone but ourselves.

The gift in this, though, is that parenting reminds us in fresh ways that it’s not all about me. Caring for one or two or 10 little humans forces us to put the needs of another before our own—often to a degree that we’ve never had to experience before. Waking up 10 times in one night? Sure. Making meals and washing clothes for kids who don’t have the fine motor skills to do it for themselves? Of course.

But if we’re so exhausted by serving our kids that we can’t—or won’t—serve our spouse, we’re headed down the wrong path. We may not be able to fill up the gas tank on a whim or pick up roses on the way home, but we can still serve our spouse in simple, thoughtful ways through the week. A note left on a dashboard, the offer to take the kids while she gets a night out, or the willingness to clean the dishes—these little acts of service help keep marriages healthy in the midst of exhausting days and years.

Get Help When You Need It

Strong marriages make for strong families, and it’s worth it to invest in our marriages so that we don’t lose intimacy with our spouse in the busy years of parenting.

Let’s be honest; we all need help (in countless ways). But having children can add a practical strain on the marriage relationship that can build up over time if those things are not intentionally worked through. The tensions that can arise in a marriage when time, affection and even money have to be split three ways (or four or five or 12 ways) rather than two ways can feel weighty.

Don’t go it alone. If you’re not already in a small group at your church, join one (if they provide childcare during that time, bonus!). Talk to other couples about how they try to balance it all. Ask for help when your kid gets sick. Make a meal for another family when they’re short on cash—and accept the same in return.

If talking with friends isn’t enough, seek out marriage counseling. Get help and don’t try to figure it out on your own. The Church, the Body of Christ, is called to care for one another, and our marriages and families need all of the care they can get. No couple is meant to go the intense, beautiful and difficult road of marriage and parenting alone. So reach out.

Strong marriages make for strong families, and it’s worth it to invest in our marriages so that we don’t lose intimacy with our spouse in the busy years of parenting. The kids, as treasured and valuable as they are, will leave. The spouse is the one who is meant to stay.

Top Comments

Marianne Heslip Stuart

1

Marianne Heslip Stuart commented…

Thank you for the article. My husband and I have had a standing Thursday date night for probably 15 years now. Knowing that Thursday is coming when I am having a rough Monday makes all of the difference in the world. Eight children and 23 years later I am a happy wife.

Blake Johnson

60

Blake Johnson commented…

Glad to see an article that isn't about singleness or dating, definitely need more for young married couples.

13 Comments

Ben Donahower

21

Ben Donahower commented…

Heck yea! And here's the kicker... I'm convinced that this also what's best for our children. While I think we need to take personal responsible for who we are as people, how many Gen X and Yers struggle with relationships because they lacked models of Godly marriages growing up?!

Kids also need some space to take on responsibilities, experience solitude, have fun with other kids, and experience the good and bad consequences of their actions among other life skills. The adults who aren't equipped for life are often the product of never having learned these skills they were supposed to growing up because of their helicopter parents that who would fix everything for them.

Steve Cornell

344

Steve Cornell commented…

Yes, our kids build their sense of security, identity and learn relationship skills from their parents relationship. It's crucial to understand the three relationships in the home. I have a short audio clip on this theme from my radio ministry that you would appreciate, https://thinkpoint.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/three-relationships-take-...

Joseph Dear

37

Joseph Dear commented…

I'm glad you put some emphasis on how a strong marriage is important for the whole family. Tim Keller does the same in _The Meaning of Marriage_, which I highly recommend.

A lot of these articles on making marriage a priority usually sends the message "screw the kids and their needs. The Bible says emphatically to love your spouse more than your kids" (it doesn't, but people say that). This was much more positive and helpful.

CJ Gish

1

CJ Gish commented…

Wow, how I would love to step back into time in my nearly 21 years of marriage and three children later and re-prioritize. My wife and I have fallen so by the wayside in our marital relationship while she has become bonded more with our kids. And if the kids aren't around, she's glued to her cell phone looking at Pintrest or Facebook and not talking to me. Makes for one lonely marriage when only one person is trying to connect and the other person doesn't care to even try.

Kelouise

11

Kelouise replied to CJ Gish's comment

I don't know your situation, but I still would like to offer some advice if that's OK.
Counseling might really help. I know of a lot of people who have been aided by counseling. Or you could take small steps toward working on the kind of relationship you want, with a regular and gradual nudge (by you) in a certain direction in the relationship. Tell her you wish you two could talk more. Then ask her about her thoughts and her life. If the conversation only lasts 5 minutes, that's OK. Maybe next time it will last for 6, and then 10, and then maybe one day you two will get really deep. Positive reinforcement, encouragement, acceptance, and love may help and it may take a long time before you see the results you want. Again, counseling brings in a third party and can really help. Just some thoughts.

Carlos Rodriguez

49

Carlos Rodriguez commented…

Your marriage will appreciate it. (and so will your kids) (and your neighbours) (and yourself) (and Jesus himself) - http://www.happysonship.com/the-7-principles-for-making-marriage-work-bo...

Please log in or register to comment

Log In