Friday, February 5, 2016

How do you put your Marriage "First?"

I recently read a couple of articles about the importance of putting your marriage "first"--before your children.
While I know there isn't total agreement about that idea--or at least about the phrasing--I was rather shocked to see the viciously angry comments on the articles, sprinkled with colorful language and misconstruing the claims and suggestions in the articles.
One angry commenter said something like, "You wouldn't leave your child in the bathroom throwing up just because your husband wanted to spend time with you!"
Another stated, "If the boat was sinking and you had to choose to save your husband or your child, there is no way you would choose your husband!"

I don't think anyone who claims to put their marriage "first" would support neglecting a sick child in favor of having fun with their spouse--
but their anger got me thinking...what does it mean to put your marriage "first?"

I actually prefer to think of a concentric model of priorities rather than a hierarchical ranking.
We put God at the center of our lives, and the positive effects ripple outward to all other aspects of our lives.
And when we put marriage as a central part of our focus, the positive effects ripple outward as well.
Putting our marriage first is putting our children first, because the positive effects that decision will have on them are innumerable.
When I thought of the sinking-boat analogy the commenter brought up, I saw myself as not choosing one or the other, but rather throwing the life preserver to my husband because then he and I would both be in a position to save the child.

Making the marriage a central focus will look different for each couple,
but I started thinking about what that looks like for us.

For us, it means:

-Making time for a date night without kids each week. This may be out of the house with a babysitter at home or at home after the kids are in bed, but that time together is essential to connect and have conversations that don't happen as easily during the chaos of day-to-day life. When our kids were small babies they often came along, but as soon as they became old enough to be a substantial distraction, they began staying with a babysitter. We try to get at least 2-3 date nights out of the house per month, because I notice we're both more alert and attentive if we can begin our date earlier in the evening and leave the chores and home stressors behind for a while. We also try to ensure we're mentally present. Although we often talk about our kids on our dates, we try to expand our conversation to other topics and not worry excessively about them while we're away so we're able to focus on one another.

-Being willing to leave kids with a babysitter. See above--sometimes the kids cried when we left together. One of our babies had one day when we left and he cried for a good chunk of the time we were gone. But we knew that while they weren't necessarily immediately happier for our time away, they would benefit as we took the time and sacrificed their immediate comfort to strengthen our marriage relationship.

-Attending the temple each month. When we attend the temple, we are reminded of the promises we have made to God and to one another and how those promises affect us as a couple and our children--for eternity! This always helps us keep our priorities straight.

-Sitting together. I admire the fact that my parents sat together if they were both at a family outing or event. It may have been a small thing--but it sent the message to us as children that we would never come between their relationship. And every time Sam and I sit together at Church with our kids on laps or on either side of us, I have that message reaffirmed to me as well.

-Giving Attention. Children are, by nature, far more demanding than spouses. When I pick Sam up from the bus stop after work, they chatter non-stop while I am lucky to get a sentence or two in during our short drive home. But, when we are having a conversation with one another, they have to wait until we're at a stopping point before they can talk to us. (And we try to make a stopping point within a minute or so!) If I am hugging Sam and a jealous toddler comes up and tries to shove us apart or cries to be picked up, I smile down at him and say, "I'm hugging Daddy right now!" I don't neglect my children, but I also don't allow them to take all of my attention. If Sam calls and I am in the middle of an activity with the kids, I stop what I'm doing and answer his phone call. If the kids want the last cookie and Sam hasn't gotten one, I usually tell them we need to save it for him. (And I was thrilled when our oldest recently insisted on saving a muffin for his Daddy before he ate his!) They're simple things, but they do a lot to ensure we're not neglecting our relationship.

-Setting Boundaries. We don't just have boundaries for our marriage--areas we don't allow other things or people to interfere with--we also have boundaries for family time. We work hard to protect family dinner time, and we are strict about preserving Monday nights for our Family Home Evening. We have likewise chosen to teach our kids to sleep in their own beds, to not take sides with our kids when a dispute arises, to never complain about one another to others, and to try to go to sleep at the same time (which helps us avoid feeling like we're living parallel lives). Boundaries may look different for other couples, but I think it's important that they are defined and protected.

-Taking time and making the effort to show love in the midst of daily life. A love note hiding in the kitchen cupboard, a funny or thoughtful e-mail sent on a trying day, a phone call to check in after a doctor's appointment, a treat Sam saves me that someone brought into work...these things are small, but they make us feel loved and prioritized even as life's other demands take the biggest chunk of our time. During a challenging period when our first son was a new baby, Sam would call me each day while he was warming up his food for lunch. His phone call was only 1-2 minutes long, but it was something I looked forward to. It lifted my spirits and showed that he was thinking of me even while he was away. When life gets chaotic, if I take the time to make some extra effort to show love, it always brings us closer together and emphasizes our priorities.

-Recognizing that time spent with a person does not equate to level of importance. I feel strongly that priorities don't always have to do with time. When my husband was in a really demanding Church calling and working long hours in graduate school, I wondered what it meant for family to come first, because I didn't really see anything he should cut out. It finally dawned on me that if the family's NEEDS were being met and prioritized, then he was putting us first--even if he spent more time elsewhere. So even though sometimes kids reduce the amount of time we spend together, I think when we ensure the needs of our marriage are being met we're still putting that relationship first.

-Allowing our children to bring us together. One reason I don't see children and a marriage as competitors is because parenthood truly has strengthened our marriage! Each time we have marveled at the wonder of a new baby--each time we rejoice together at a child's progress or behavior--each time we work together to discuss a child's needs and how to best meet them--we grow closer together. Parenthood is something that brings us a tremendous amount of joy and as we work together, we simultaneously grow closer together.

Although the list above is not intended to be all-inclusive, it highlights the main ways we work to make our marriage a central priority of our lives.
What about you? How do you make your marriage a central priority of your life?

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness, I love this. I am one of those who refrains from using ranking language like "first" because I don't like it and the image it places in my mind doesn't work for me. When I had JaiseAnn I remember reading that I needed to put my marriage first and I had that exact question "what does that even look like or mean?" I fully understand prioritizing, I don't understand ranking. But this I love because each marriage will prioritize differently. What one couple sees as quality time will be different from another, but each family needs parents that focus on the needs of their marriage so that everyone benefits. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.


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