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Who do you put first?   Your spouse or your kids?

Out of the blue, a friend asked me, on New Years Eve of all times, is your relationship with your kids more important than your relationship with your spouse?

I immediately answered “YES!” it is as important, then a second later, I said, “NO!” it isn’t, then I said “Maybe?”

One of my favourite country artists, Keith Urban, irked lots of folks when he declared that he loved his wife more than his kids.

“We’re very, very tight as a family unit and the children are our life, but I know the order of my love. It’s my wife and then my daughters. I just think it’s really important for the kids…There are too many parents who start to lose the plot a little and start to give all their love to the kids, and then the partner starts to go without. And then everybody loses. As a kid, all I needed to know was that my parents were solid. Kids shouldn’t feel like they are being favoured. It’s a dangerous place.”

Incredibly bold eh?  But I couldn’t agree more!   This country twanger is a prophet…

Regular readers of my blog know that I always harp on strengthening your relationship with your children; that relationship is paramount.

But I need to clarify – you can never put the needs of your children before the needs of your partner.

I don’t want to confuse needs with love.  The love you have for your children is different than the love for your spouse.  The two cannot be compared.   The love you have for your children is based in nurturing, teaching, guiding, protecting, and caring.  Whereas the relationship with your partner is much more intimate and affirming – you are each other’s confidante, companion, friend, emotional support, and equal.

But which relationship is your top priority?

Everyone benefits from your strong relationship with your spouse: it forms the stability, predictability, and security in the house and the springboard for self-esteem in your children.

You are both role models – demonstrating what a loving relationship looks like.   You are showing your children what they should expect in their future relationships, programming what they will look for and expect from a partner.

In my failed marriage, we both poured everything we had into our children.  They became our life.  I think we honestly believed we were doing the right thing, devoting all our time and energy to the kids.

But at what cost?  For us, there was no time, energy, or heart left for each other.    While not the ultimate downfall of our marriage, our child-centered philosophy was definitely a contributing factor.   Then as a single dad, my children were also my sole focus – this self-sacrifice was not the healthiest choice for anyone.

Now I am in a committed, loving relationship, and I am much more aware and vigilant of the big picture.  Being child-centered is great, but the most child-centered thing you can do is have a great marriage/relationship.  You cannot love your children at the expense of your partner.

What I am saying is you need to fight for the “US” – make your adult love relationship your top priority!  If that relationship is solid, then children will thrive.  If Dad (or Mom) feels sidelined, and he has gone from the top of the totem pole to the absolute bottom (just below the dog), then resentment, contempt, and trouble will creep into the house.

When everything revolves around the children and their schedules, without careful and purposeful “couple time”, you will lose each other. 

Use family, friends, and babysitters, to carve out time in your busy lives to nourish your adult relationship.   You have to constantly sharpen the saw and relive what made you both fall in love in the first place.  Try to never forget the passion and excitement of the initial courtship and all the romantic gestures.

Let’s fast forward 20 years… What will happen when the children leave the nest?  If you have neglected your relationship, like a garden, there may not be much left to work with.

Will you and your partner even be friends?

Or is one of you planning to move out with the kids?

As a society, we have become so child-centered that this “putting your spouse first” notion is controversial, but if you keep your adult relationship as your top priority, your entire family benefits! 

Agree with me?  Disagree?  Let’s start the conversation!

Until next time!


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  • Paul Jan 10, 2013 Reply

    Definitely agree. Good article.

    • Jeff Jan 15, 2013 Reply

      Hey Paul,
      Welcome to the Vibe… thanks for the thoughts — I look forward to interacting with you!

  • Leanne Jan 11, 2013 Reply

    I agree, Jeff. I do think, in my opinion, that what makes this whole prioritizing thing difficult is determining how much TIME is necessary to devote to a marriage in order to keep it intact. Obviously, and especially when the kids are really young, the immediate needs of the kids TAKE A LOT OF TIME to meet! Laundry, feeding, clean up, bathing, changing, etc IS overhwelming. What I think I may have done to allow my spouse to feel shoved aside is make ‘him’ the enemy … “How can he have expectations of me too! Doesn’t he know how tired I am?” I was exhausted NOT because he needed me ‘too’, but because kids are exhausting!! It was not his fault!! And because kids can’t seem to be able to wait, we presume our spouses can, so we put them off. Weeks and months go by without any special couple time. Starting with a couple hours a week, possibly moving into some over-nights away a few times a year can preserve a relationship when the kids seem to be driving you apart. And then there are all the little moments each day (The hugs, the interest taken in how their day was, the notes of encouragement and phone calls during the day.) It takes effort and commitment, but the benefits down the road are worth the investment.

    • Jeff Jan 15, 2013 Reply

      Hey Leanne,
      Always, thanks for the honesty and well written comment — you have hit the nail on the head – wish I had added the ‘enemy’ part to my original article!!

  • M Dyck Jan 12, 2013 Reply

    Well, I think it’s an ever-changing battle of priorities and compromise. As adults we must allow that the immediate needs of our children will take precedence a lot of the time, but ultimately it’s a constantly changing balance. At times the needs of our partners must be met and the children will learn this through experience and themselves understand and recognize how to prioritize the demands placed on them as they develop from kids to adults and parents. At times even our own needs must be placed above those of the kids and of our partner’s for our own sanity whcih we can then use to give back. It’s a delicate balance of prioritization. Just dads, remember, especially when the kids are young, mothers give so much. Don’t kid yourself about your job or role versus theirs. Mothers look after their families and work almost every waking moment doing so. Help out, or give them flowers every once in a while and tell them you know what they are doing. Huge stereotype and obviously there are exceptions.. but you get my point.

    • Jeff Jan 15, 2013 Reply

      Hey Michael,
      Thanks for your insights… you are right, it is a balancing act! I agree that ME time is almost as critical as US time… when I’m a solid ME, I’m a better PARTNER, which makes me a better DAD!!

  • Ken Jan 14, 2013 Reply

    Great article. In regards to spending time alone, my girlfriend and I try to do it at least once a week. Just an hour or two is great. This last couple of years we have also been havng playdates with our friends. It has been great and very rewarding having time with my buddies.

    • Jeff Jan 15, 2013 Reply

      Hey Kenny,
      Thanks for your continued support! Sounds like your relationship is one I can learn a lot from! Sharing playdates can be a WIN-WIN for everyone… you look after their kids one Friday night and then swap -=- the kids love it and so will your relationship!

    • Jeff Feb 7, 2013 Reply

      Hey Ken — great ideas — you are a good example of a dialed in dad and partner!

  • doug s. Jan 22, 2013 Reply

    thanks jeff for the reminder to guys like me who have believed this for a long time, but need reminding.

    • Jeff Feb 7, 2013 Reply

      Hey Doug! Welcome to the Dad Vibe! gentle reminders are helpful to me so I thought it may benefit others too…glad it resonated with you! I look forward to hearing more from you!

  • Angus McNee Sep 26, 2013 Reply

    There’s an old saying: The best thing a father can do for his kids, is to love their mother!

    • Jeff Sep 27, 2013 Reply

      Hey Angus! You are so right! Regardless of the marriage dynamic, honour and respect for mom goes a long way!

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