Who Comes First in a Relationship?
Myself, My Spouse, or My Kids?
Mary & John – Relationship on the Rocks
Mary loved her kids. She always put them first and worked hard to make sure they were well taken care of. However, her relationship was turning stale and sour. She and John, her husband, argued a lot.
John wanted more attention from his wife. He thought that she spent too much time with the kids and not enough time with him. The kids were getting older now, and he thought they didn’t need as much care and attention as she was giving them anymore. Why won’t she just let them grow up? He wondered.
Mary thought John was being selfish. He must not care about our children as much as I do, she thought. All he cares about is himself!
Janet & Jake – Starting a New Family
Janet and Jake had the perfect relationship. Then the day came that Janet got pregnant. They were overjoyed and thought their family was going to be perfect together. It was an absolute dream come true. During her pregnancy, Janet and Jake bonded and grew closer than ever.
Then the baby came. Suddenly, life was not nearly as perfect as they had envisioned. The baby had so many demands! They rarely had time for each other anymore. As the child grew, so did the responsibilities. Janet and Jake found themselves growing further and further apart. There just wasn’t any time for each other. Jake worked long hours to support their family, and Janet juggled her part-time job with taking care of their child. At the end of the day, they were both just too exhausted and grouchy to spend any meaningful time together.
As John had grown up with learning to internalize his feelings and not showing his vulnerabilities, he did not know how to share how much he missed Janet’s attention and started having a brief affair outside of their home. Janet found out and could not believe John would be so selfish. John argued that he only did it because she didn’t have time for him anymore. He didn’t seem remorseful at all but begged for understanding. But how could Janet understand such infidelity? She worked just as hard as he did. She didn’t get to go out and spend time away from the home like he did. Divorce seemed imminent.
So, Who Comes First in the Relationship?
Such situations are common today. They beg the question, Who comes first in the relationship? Myself, my spouse, or my kids? For many, the automatic answer may be ‘the children come first in the relationship’. However, there is something to be said, in this type of thinking.
Research has shown Me-time is important, in relationships. The problem is many people get so lost in "we," that they don't balance "me”. With ‘we’ here, I am referring to mothers and their children. Most women I know, put children before husband. They may not tell him that, but they do.
It’s hard to have time for your partner when you don’t even have time for yourself. Craving alone time is normal as Me-time gives the chance to refresh and reboot so there is positive energy in supply for yourself. It also helps you to maintain your sense of individuality and identity, a major need for success in today’s individualistic centered society as well as in your relationship.
Some more obvious dangers in putting children first in the relationship are overindulgence and overprotection. These can lead to a sense of entitlement and prolonged dependency. It can also lead children to think that marriage requires self-sacrifice to fulfill the moral imperative of responsible child rearing.
Furthermore, when children are placed first in the relationship, one runs the danger of neglecting the marriage. "We parents today are too quick to sacrifice our lives and our marriage for our kids," David Code, therapist and Wall Street Journal contributor, writes in his book To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. "But as we break our backs for our kids, our marriage and self-fulfillment go out of the window." This can lead to feelings of resentment, neglect, resignation, and alienation.
It is natural and beneficial for parents to make child-rearing a priority in their relationship. It is better to care too much than to care too little. However, doing so to a fault can lead to unexpected and unwanted consequences for the children and for the relationship.
In a balanced family, the parents tend to put each other first before the children. This does not mean the children go neglected, but that they do not take priority over the health of the parent’s relationship. Both parents take out me-time to refresh and re-energize, allowing them to have the energy to focus on their lives, each other, and on their children positively. The parents understand to maintain the relationship, they must nurture and cherish it - and themselves. They don’t stop with developing themselves, as individuals, in their relationship.
Tips for Having the Right Priorities in Your Relationship
The amount of time together matters, but it’s more about how that time is used!
Make time for yourself. Set aside some –reasonable- time each week to focus on relaxation and doing the things you want to do for yourself. Stay at home parents can make this time by settling the children down with activities they can do independently and quietly, hiring a babysitter or daycare to take the children in, or delegating some time for the other parent to spend alone with the children. This will help you refresh your energy supply and maintain your sense of self (and your sanity!).
Make time for each other. Also, make sure there is some time set aside each week for you and your partner to focus on each other. This can be done even while the children are home, by settling them down with an independent activity while you and your spouse engage in one another. So when you spend time together, make sure you’re engaged. These intimate conversations will help guarantee you both feel heard and seen, for keeping your relationship strong. It will help encourage and maintain the bond between you, as well as strengthening your trust in each other.
Find the right balance in child-rearing with your partner. Working together in parenting with a healthy and do-able time allocation should help your relationship.
Communicate in ways that you ‘hear’ one another so that when you look at each other, you really see the other person. You can improve your communication skills by understanding there are different languages in a relationship; Gary Chapman calls them "love languages": words, presents, time, acts and physical touch.
If you are interested in strengthening the bonds of your relationship, my Time For Each Other programs are a great way to go. Particularly, my intensive, 1 Day Relationship Session or Weekend Workshop are a great accelerated options, allowing you to start improving your relationship within days, not weeks like other relationship strengthening programs take. I am a board-certified relationship therapist that realizes there’s more that goes into making a relationship work than love, and I am eager to show you the ropes to strengthening your relationship’s bond. Time For Each Other is designed to answer a calling I felt to create a program that would have answered all my problems in my own time of need. I have already helped many with their relationships, and would love to help you to improve yours. If you'd like to learn more, please reach out via the contact below.