When I stepped into the waiting room, I noticed that Bryan and Christine (not their real names) were sitting in separate chairs and weren’t talking. As they took separate seats in my office, I asked them why they had come to counseling. The question was met with sighs and silence. After some awkward attempts to get Bryan to go first, Christine finally said, “We’re really struggling in our marriage. ” From there, the story began to roll out.
They were once good friends and playful lovers who talked, laughed, and spent time together. But now they were more like room mates who only talked when they needed to. Christine was focused on their 3 active kids and the mounds of laundry and homework that came with them. Bryan was focused on the increasing demands of providing for their family, and the occasional game of golf. Their time together was spent discussing kids, schedules, or money. This seemed to be the only thing holding them together.
I asked them when they felt all this had started. Their answer was what I expected: “Shortly after our first child was born.”
Bryan and Christine are not a special case. I hear this from most of the couples coming for counseling. Having children is like having a favorite food that gives you indigestion. You know you’re going to pay for it, but you have to have it anyway. (Yeah, I said it.) We love our children, but there’s something about having kids that diminishes our satisfaction in marriage.
In a great article entitled Marital Satisfaction While Raising Children, Erica Layne points out that marital satisfaction declines with the introduction of children. In fact, marital satisfaction bottoms out when your children are toddlers and again when they’re teenagers. It only begins to gain ground and recover as the kids start to leave home. (Seriously! I’m not making this stuff up!)
HOW DO THESE BUNDLES OF JOY STEAL THE JOY FROM OUR MARRIAGE?
The children we expect to be bright spots in our marriage become black holes in our marriage. I know that seems harsh, so before you send me hate mail, let me say I love my children and wouldn’t change a thing about having them and raising them. (Ok…maybe I would change a few things.) But by their nature, kids suck up your time, your energy, your money, your plans, your space, and sometimes your sanity. This puts a lot of stress on a marriage.
Children change who we are. Prior to kids, a husband has a playmate in his wife and a wife has a companion in her husband. As soon as she becomes pregnant, a wife becomes a mom and begins to focus on the baby. She changes what she eats and drinks. She starts reading books on babies and begins to think about preparing the house for the baby. She becomes focused on nurturing the child.
At this point, a husband sees his playmate gradually being replaced by a mom. He may attempt to hang onto his playmate as long as he can, but eventually he succumbs to the inevitable and begins to focus on being a dad. For him this means working hard to provide for his family.
A mom focused on nurturing her children and a dad focused on providing for his family will naturally drift apart, because they’ve stopped focusing on each other. Their marriage gets bumped to the back of the line, and all they get is the left-over crumbs of time, attention, and energy.
So what can you do?
PUT YOUR KIDS AND YOUR MARRIAGE BACK IN THEIR PROPER PLACE.
I tell couples, “Your partnering must be a rung above your parenting.” This may not sound right to you…especially if you’re a mom…but it is essential to both your marriage and your parenting. Here’s why:
- Improving your marriage will improve your parenting, but improving your parenting will not necessarily improve your marriage.
- Making your marriage a priority will help your kids feel safe and secure…even though they’ll whine when they’re not the center of your attention.
- Putting your marriage ahead of your parenting will help your kids realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them.
- Making your marriage a priority will set an example for your kids to follow in their own marriage.
Making your marriage a priority is easier said than done when you have kids. The tyranny of the urgent is overwhelming. There’s meals to fix, clothes to wash, homework to do, baths to take, and a variety of activities like baseball, basketball, soccer, dance, and band that keep you running the road and running behind.
You can’t just ignore your children, but neither can you just ignore your marriage. You have to find a way to bring your marriage back to the top of the list. How? Start with some small changes:
- Put your kids to bed a little earlier. It may be a battle at first, but getting them to bed just 15-20 minutes earlier can give the two of you a little more time of an evening.
- Calendar a date night at least once every other week…and guard it with your life! If you have to eat Romen noodles once a week to find the money for a sitter, it’s worth it! The date doesn’t have to be expensive. You can take a walk in the park. You can go to McDonald’s, get small drinks, and refill them multiple times. But it’s important the date be just the two of you…no kids or other couples. Also, you’re not allowed to talk about the kids on your date. That will be hard. So if you can’t find anything to talk about, go to the movies where you can hold hands and not have to talk.
- Restrict the number of activities in which your kids can participate. This will not make you a bad parent, but it will teach your kids two lessons: they can’t have everything, and they have to make choices.
- Set a 15 minute “adults only” time when you get home in the evening. This is difficult when your kids are small, but it can be done and it teaches them they have to wait their turn. It can also remind them that your spouse was here before they were and your spouse will be here when they leave.
- Go to a church with a good children’s ministry. This will allow you to spend at least an hour of adult time with other couples while your kids are lovingly cared for…for free! It’s not the only reason you should go to church, but it’s not a bad benefit.
You can probably think of other ways to put your kids and your marriage in their proper place. It’s never too late to start putting your partnering ahead of your parenting. If you don’t, there will come a day when you’ll wonder, “How did we become just room mates?
Do you know of other ways to put your partnering above your parenting? If so, leave those in the comment section below. We need all the help we can get!
Copyright © 2016 Bret Legg