The List – Put Your Kids Ahead of Your Spouse

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The list refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage, and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records.

When I have a couple in my office whose marriage is not doing well, I always ask them when things started to go south. More often than not, the answer relates to when they became parents.

WHEN YOU HAVE KIDS, THINGS CHANGE

Resources.

You have a lot more resources prior to having kids. You have more…

  • Sleep.
  • Free Time.
  • Personal Time.
  • Social Time.
  • Flexibility.
  • Sex.
  • Spontaneity.
  • Privacy.
  • Money.

But after you have kids, these things become more scarce, and it puts more stress on spouses.

Roles.

But there’s another dynamic that happens after we have kids, and that has to do with our changing roles.

Before children, we were just husband and wife. We were playmates; focused on one another. But when kids come along, we’re no longer just husband and wife. We’re also mom and dad. And this changes the dynamic of the relationship.

Wives shift into the mom role, and everything about them is centered on the child. If they carried the child in pregnancy, the child has already effected everything about them…including their body. Moms become very focused on the care and nurturing of children.

Husbands are different. Husbands tend to be a little slower to make the shift to dad role. Maybe it’s because dads don’t carrying the child for nine months. Or maybe it’s because husbands are just wired differently. Whatever the reason, husbands are not as centered on the child at first. All they know is they see their wife changing into a mom and they feel like they’re losing their playmate.

The Result.

So husbands will try to get their playmate back. This can be a bit annoying for wives, who often see their husband’s attempts as either a sign of selfishness or immaturity. So a wife will communicate to her husband that he’s an adult who can take care of himself, but this child needs her.

Eventually, a husband will quit trying to get his playmate back and succumb to the fact that he now has a mom in her place. Then, he will shift into a dad roll by working hard at his job to provide well for his family.

And thus begins the marital drift. Though there can be some flips in gender and wage-earner roles, by and large wives focus on kids and husbands focus on work. When kids become older and more self-sufficient, a wife feels a little more freedom to turn back toward her husband and reconnect. The problem is, the husband is now accustomed to his role as a hard-working provider and doesn’t easily make the shift back. And so distance and dissatisfaction begin to set in like concrete.

GETTING THINGS BACK IN ORDER.

So, if putting your kids ahead of your spouse is one way to lose your marriage, then the remedy for this is to put your partnering back in front of your parenting. To be husband and wife first and dad and mom second.

So here are some things that will help you put your partnering in front of your parenting. You won’t be perfect at these things, but you don’t have to be. You just have to be better at them.

Make Time Together a Priority.

Caring for children carries big demands that often leave spouses with little time or energy at the end of a long day.

I’m not saying you should neglect you children. I’m just saying you should make sure you and your spouse get a cut of the time you have.

Spend daily time together. 

  • Maybe you can spend a few minutes together after you get home from work.
  • Maybe you can start putting your kids to bed 30 minutes earlier in order to get 30 minutes together before you go to bed.
  • Maybe you can find a few minutes together at the dinner table, after the kids have left the table.

Whatever works for you, find some time each day to connect. Then, you need to move on to…

Spend weekly time together.

Have a weekly date night. If you can’t go weekly, then go out every other week. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It just needs to be intentional. You were in love when you used to date, so continuing to date will help to rekindle some of that.

Some things won’t get done if you do these things. But, maybe spending a few minutes together is more important. Think of it not as a loss, but as a trade.

Make Financing Your Relationship Together a Priority.

Even if you have to eat Ramen Noodles one night a week or skip a trip or two to Sartbucks, make sure you budget money for date nights, baby sitters, movies, or whatever you want to do together. Spending time together is worth the sacrifice somewhere else. And you will eventually get to the place where you can afford it without the sacrifice.

Make Sex Together a Priority.

Studies show that there is a correlation between marriage satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. When sexual satisfaction increase, so does marriage satisfaction. Even 1 Corinthians 7:5 says we are to not forsake the sexual relationship in marriage, but rather to regularly come together for sex.

I know spouses often disagree on how often they should be having sex, but sit down, reach an agreement, and then stick to it. On those nights you’re going to have sex, help one another out with kids and chores around the house, in order to make time and energy for sex. You may also need to let some things go on those evenings, for the sake of having time for sex.

But you’ll be surprised how regularly enjoying sex together will strengthen the bond between the two of you and keep your marriage a priority.

Make Laughing Together a Priority.

If you’re not having fun with someone, why would you want to spend time them?

So find things that will make each other laugh.  Watch funny movies together. Tell each other jokes. Flirt. Recall funny moments. Do whatever you need to do to laugh together. Because when you don’t laugh together, it makes it harder to live together.

Make Goals and Dreams Together a Priority.

It’s easy to talk about your goals and dreams for your kids. But…don’t take this the wrong way…your kids are sort of temporary. They’re going to grow up, move away, and start marriages and families of their own.

So make goals and dreams for just the two of you. It’s a good way of reminding you that ultimately, the two of you are the priority. Even if you don’t reach every goal or dream you set, you’ve still had the fun and bonding of doing it together.

These are just a few of the things you can do to keep from putting your kids ahead of your spouse and losing your marriage. And now…

A FINAL WORD…

To some, putting your spouse ahead of your kids may seem wrong…or at least more idealistic than realistic. They may think, “I could never do this. You just don’t know how it is at my house! You don’t know how hard it is! If we do all of this, there won’t be enough time to get everything done!” And those that think that would be right!

I know it’s demanding at your house, and I know it’s hard. I’ve had to raise kids and maintain a marriage and family while going to grad school and working two jobs. And you’re right…there won’t be enough time for everything. But if you’re so busy that you have to put your marriage on the back burner to get it all done, then you have too many “priorities.” Not everything can be a priority, and how can you expect to have a rich marriage “later” if you’re not making the proper investments now?

So, keep your partnering ahead of your parenting, because putting your kids ahead of your spouse is one of the ways to lose your marriage. It’s on the List!

2 Kings 4 – Use Your Superpowers

If you had superpowers, what would you do? Most of us would say something like, “help others.” But wouldn’t it be tempting to use your power to do a little grand-standing? And how would you know if you were really using your power to help others or to draw attention to yourself?

Elisha

In 2 Kings chapter 4, Elisha is doing one miracle after another. And because of the way these events are narrated, it appears that Elisha is showing off. But if you look at the chapter carefully, you find that…

  • Elisha’s interest is always focused on caring for the needs of others.
  • The miracles are often done either behind closed doors (2 Kings 4:4, 33) or in the company of the prophets (2 Kings 4:38-44.) The miracles are not to impress the general public.
  • Elisha acknowledges that he is submissive to the real miracle worker…God. (2 Kings 4:27, 43.)

Us

All of us are like Elisha. We may not be able to do dramatic miracles, but God has given us many other things we could use to benefit others. Things like our:

  • Time.
  • Talent.
  • Resources.
  • Experience.
  • Fruit of the Spirit.
  • Etc.

Though more subtle than Elisha’s miracles, we can take what God has given us and produce one miracle after another in other’s lives.

Are you doing that, or are you taking what God has given you and using it for your own benefit? Are you doing what you do for others behind closed doors, so as to not draw attention to yourself? Do you readily acknowledge that what you have is a gift from God to be gifted to others?

We do have superpowers as believers. Jesus even said that we would do even greater things than He did. (John 14:12) The Spirit that empowered Elisha and raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us as believers.

So, how will you use your superpower?

The List – Stop Spending Time Together

Some time ago, I spent a few days thinning out over 20 years of counseling files. As I went through each individual file, it was like a trip down memory lane. With each file, I could see their faces and remember their issues.

While doing this, I was struck by how many married couples I had worked with. I celebrated those couples who had turned things around and went on to have great marriages. But I also grieved over those marriages that ended in divorce.

Burdened by those marriages that ended in divorce, I began keeping a list of issues that contributed to those divorces. I discovered that, despite the uniqueness of each couple, there were some common and reoccurring issues that led to these divorces.  And with the exception of three or four “big” things,  most of the issues were smaller, more normal things that were left unattended for too long.

So, I compiled my notes into a list I called, “Ways to Lose Your Marriage” or just “The List” for short. And in the weeks to come, I’m going to be sharing this list with you. Each week, in no particular order, we will cover one way to lose your marriage.

So, here’s the first one.

One way to lose your marriage is to …

STOP SPENDING TIME TOGETHER.

When we are dating, we try to spend as much time as possible together. Even if we have nothing to do or nothing to say, we still want to spend all the time we can together because we were in love.

But after we get married, and after the honeymoon time begins to wane, we gradually spend less and less time together. We get busy building a home, building a career, and building a family, and we forget to keep building our marriage. Then, one day, we wonder why we’re not as close as we use to be. The spark seems to have evaporated. The relationship is more routine…more business-like. It’s not like it used to be.

So as time goes on, you begin to drift apart. Oh, you’re still raising kids, paying the mortgage, cleaning the house, and mowing the yard. But you’re just not as connected anymore. And it all started because you gradually stopped spending time together. You didn’t intend to. It wasn’t personal. Life just kept taking more and more of your time, and your spouse started getting less and less of it.

When you stop spending time together, you set your marriage on a gradual course of dissatisfaction and (if not corrected) divorce.

When I talk about spending time together, I’m not necessarily talking about hours of uninterrupted time, staring into each other’s eyes, and talking about the secrets of your hearts. It’s more simple and less threatening than that. Think of it as intentional time together and unintentional time together.

Intentional Time Together.

Intentional time together is planned and/or scheduled time together. It could be a simple as a dinner or movie date, or as elaborate as a weekend getaway or a second honeymoon. And the act of scheduling and planning the time is almost as important as the time itself because it communicates to your spouse that you care enough about them to put some effort into it.

Unintentional Time Together.

Unintentional time is more casual, spur-of-the-moment time with your spouse. Things like: sitting together, running errands together, taking a walk together, etc. Believe it or not, these times are just as important as the intentional times together, because they can happen more frequently and can become a part of the daily routine of your life.

YEAH, BUT…

Some of you may be thinking, “Yeah, but spending time together when we were dating was easier because we were in love and didn’t have as many things getting in the way. But I want to challenge that thinking. Maybe it wasn’t being in love that caused you to spend so much time together when you were dating. Maybe you were in love because you spent so much time together. And you still had demands and constraints on your time when you were dating. You had school, parents, work, friends, and the fact that the two of you weren’t living together. Yet you still found a way to work around those constraints. If you could do it then, you can do it now.

I know this may be difficult at first, especially if you’re at a place where you don’t want to spend time with your spouse. You may be hurt, angry, or wounded, and spending time with them is the last thing you want to do. But let me encourage you. Don’t put it off or avoid it for long. Because not spending time with your spouse is one of the ways to lose your marriage. It’s on the list.

Why Did You Get Married?

WHY DO PEOPLE GET MARRIED?

When I am counseling couples, I often ask them this question: “Why did you get married?“ The answers vary…

  • I fell in love with them.
  • We had so much in common.
  • I loved spending time with them.
  • We were tired of going home at the end of the date.
  • It just felt like the right time.
  • I was ready to build a life and a family with them.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all good reasons. But eventually, they are not enough to sustain a marriage. The longer you’re married the more difficult marriage becomes…leaving the above reasons insufficient.

WHY ARE THESE REASONS ARE NOT ENOUGH?

Look again at the reasons listed above…

I fell in love with them.

It’s certainly preferable to fall in love with the person you’re going to marry. But if that’s the main reason for getting married, what happens when you fall out of love? Throughout the course of the marriage, that feeling of falling in love with your spouse will come and go. So you need a bigger reason for marriage than falling in love.

We had so much in common.

People who come to me for premarital counseling focus on how much they have in common. But people who come to me for marriage counseling focus on how different they are. Early in the relationship, we tend to maximize our similarities and minimize our differences. But eventually, the differences begin to force their way to the top. So you need a bigger reason for marriage than your similarities.

I loved spending time with them.

There is a correlation between the amount of quality time we spend together and our feelings of love for one another. Early in the marriage, we’re afforded a lot of quality time together. But the longer you’re married, the more the demands on your time mount, and the less quality time you have. So you need a bigger reason for marriage than loving to spend time together.

We were tired of going home at the end of the date.

I hear this from a lot of people in premarital counseling. The consistent feeling of not wanting to be away from the other is certainly a good sign that this person may be the one. But many couples underestimate the issues that can arise from living under the same roof day in and day out. Some spouses even start yearning for more time alone. So you need a bigger reason for marriage than wanting to spend all your time together.

It just felt like the right time.

Often, when I ask couples why now is the time to get married, they will say, “it just feels right.” But, feelings have a way of coming and going. There will be times in marriage when you might even question whether it really was right or not. So you need a bigger reason for marriage than just a gut feeling that the time is right.

I was ready to build a life and family with them.

Of all the reasons, this is probably one of the better ones. But it is still a reason that stands on shaky ground because we have no idea what that life will look like. And what happens when that family grows up and moves on? These things will change, so you need a bigger reason for marriage than just the desire to build a life and a family with this person.

SO WHAT IS THE BETTER REASON?

When our original reasons don’t work like they use to, we typically try to get our spouse to change…so that things can feel like they used to be. But this creates tension and conflict in a marriage and usually makes matters worse.

When our former reasons don’t seem to be working, the answer is not to change our spouse. It’s to change us! That’s the real reason for marriage.

We need to understand that all the above reasons are good and important, but they are merely gateways to connect us and bring us into marriage. They can’t sustain a marriage. The real reason for getting married is that God uses marriage to mold and shape us into who we need to be. This is what it means when Scripture says, “the two become one.”

God wants to use our marriage to make us less selfish and more sacrificial. To be less self-focused and more other-focused. To learn to love more for what we can give than what we can get. It’s just that we don’t tend to see this early in the relationship. It’s something we need to grow into with time and experience.

A FINAL WORD…

No matter how you answer the question, “Why did you get married?” there’s a bigger and better question for you to answer. That question is, “Why are you married now?” If your answer is so you can grow into a better person for your spouse, you’re on the right track.

How to Prioritize Partnering Over Parenting

In the last post, we talked about how parenting can take its toll on partnering. If you haven’t read that post, I encourage you to check it out.

To quickly summarize…without proper care and attention, children can turn you from playmates to roommates. You can wind up focusing so much on being good parents you forget how to be good partners. This is how marital drift often starts.

But the good news is you can turn this around. Although the sooner the better, it’s never too late to prioritize your partnering over your parenting.

PRIORITIZING YOUR PARTNERING OVER YOUR PARENTING

There are many ways you can start to reclaim your partnering. Here are just a few:

Maintain a Regular Date Night.

I’m talking about a planned, scheduled, just-the-two-of-you date night. If you have to stop and think about when you last did that…it’s been too long! Budget for, and reserve, a regular sitter…even if you have to cut back somewhere financially to make this happen. It’s that important.

Carve Out Time to Be Together Each Day.

I know this is hard, but be creative. You may need to put the kids to bed a little earlier. I’m surprised by how many parents sacrifice time together just because they don’t want to go through the hassle of putting their kids to bed a little earlier.

There are other things you can do. Maybe you need to withhold the kid’s favorite videos so you can use them for those times when you want to spend some time together. My wife and I would take our kids to the park or the indoor playground at McDonald’s where they could play while we sat and talked. (Bring a friend for them to play with.)

Use your imagination, but do whatever you have to to get some daily time together.

Repeatedly Show Your Kids That Your Spouse Comes First.

When my kids were little and I would come home from work, the first thing I would do when I came through the door was to pull my wife close, give her a kiss, and hold her while we spent a few moments talking. When this happened, my children would try to worm their way between us, vying for our attention. But, like a mean father, I would make them wait their turn. (They hated it.)

This didn’t change when they were teens. They just changed their tactics. They didn’t try to worm their way between us anymore. Instead, it was, “Dad, can I have $20? Mom, would you drive me to my friend’s house? Dad, can I have the keys to the car?“ Again, I would make them wait their turn. This finally aggravated them so much they blurted out, “Why do you do this to us?!”  I told them, “Your mom was here before you were here, and she will be here long after you’re gone. You’re short-timers here and you’re not even paying rent! So you can wait your turn.” (Needless to say, this didn’t go over very well.)

There are other ways you can impress upon your children (and your spouse) that your spouse comes first. Opening the door for your wife. Giving your spouse first choice. Sitting close together and occasionally making the kids find somewhere else to sit. Always defending your spouse in front of the kids. Again, be creative, but show your kids that your spouse comes first.

Lock Your Bedroom Door.

You cannot say you’re prioritizing your partnering if you’re not prioritizing your sex life.  And one of the ways you do that is by locking your bedroom door. If you’re one of those people who feel it’s cruel to lock your children out of your bedroom, think about this…

I read a story about some parents who, after checking to ensure their child was asleep, decided it was safe to have sex. But just when things were at a climax (pun intended) they looked over to the side of the bed to find their child jumping up and down saying, “Can I ride too?!” The story ends with this couple promptly installing locks on their bedroom door.

Locks are necessary when you have small children who forget and who occasionally get scared at night. If you’re afraid they might get sick and you won’t hear them, then install a monitor. Just make sure it only works one way!

If your children are teens, locks are still a good idea. But the biggest deterrent is to tell them, “If our door is closed, you don’t want to go in there, because you might see something you can’t unsee.” (Wink, wink.) That will scare them off!

These are just a few of the ways to get your partnering back in front of your parenting. I’m sure you have others, and I would love it if you would leave comments and suggestions to help the rest of us out!

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is…yes, you should love your children and yes, you should sacrifice for your children. But you shouldn’t allow your parenting to take priority over your partnering.

And the biggest reason why is that one day, your children will consciously or unconsciously pattern their marriage after yours. So set a good example of putting partnering ahead of parenting.

The Crowded Marriage.

Let’s start by stating the obvious…it’s been a little over 8 months since I have posted to Normal Marriage. I realized this when, on a trip back home, I ran into a niece who asked me if I had kicked her off my Normal Marriage mailing list, because she hadn’t gotten a new post in “forever.”

I could give you a lot of detailed reasons for why it’s been so long, but the long and the short of it is life crept in and crowded Normal Marriage out.

Ever had that happen? Ever had the demands of life crowd out your marriage? The demands of life come in all shapes and sizes…

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How Parenting Can Improve Partnering

In my last post (How Partnering Can Improve Parenting,) we looked at how improving your marriage could improve your parenting. It stressed the importance of making sure your partnering takes precedence over your parenting. (If you’ve not read that post, I encourage you to go back and read it.)

Now, we need to answer how parenting can improve partnering, and the answer is simply this…

 “Your parenting should instruct your partnering.” 

Yes, your partnering should take priority over your parenting, but your parenting can teach you to be a better partner. Here’s what I mean by this. If you listed the things you do for your kids, your list would look something like this…

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Marital Drift and How to Stop It.

Have you ever had the experience of looking at your spouse in thinking, “We use to be so close. How did we drift apart? What happened?” If you have, you are not alone. I think that thought crosses the mind of nearly every spouse at one time or another.

Marriage can be like a boat without an anchor. It has a tendency to drift. In the beginning, when you’re close to shore, it doesn’t seem like a problem. But the further you get from shore the more prominent and problematic the drift can be. You start to experience things like:

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How to Waste Your Marriage…and Your Life

It’s so easy to waste your marriage on things that don’t benefit you or your spouse. The problem is, you often don’t realize it until it’s too late. So below are 5 contributors to a wasted marriage that you need to watch for. (To help you remember them, they’re form the acronym W.A.S.T.E.)

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The Power of a Few Seconds

Sometime back I was listening to a news report about a school shooting when I heard the newscaster say, “It only took 80 seconds for a high school senior to enter the high school, shoot a fellow student and then kill himself.” 80 seconds! Less than a minute and a half! That’s all it took to take two lives, irreversibly devastate two families, and traumatize a school and community forever. Just 80 seconds!

Listening to this story, I was struck by the power of a few seconds and I began to think of other situations effected by the power of a few seconds. A few seconds of distraction behind the wheel. A few seconds of inattention to a safety valve. A few seconds of leaving a child unattended by a swimming pool. There is power in a few seconds.

The same is true for marriage. A few seconds can make all the difference.

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