- Your relationship existed before your kids and will continue long after they leave the house.
- If you don't prioritize your marriage when the kids are young, it will be hard to revive it when they leave.
- Prioritizing your marriage liberates your children to be less focused on you and more on their own life.
- Focusing on your marriage is a long term investment in your own happiness as well.
Co-authored by Galit Romanelli, M.A.
Dinner time in the Romanelli house.
Zack (age 11) says to Galit: “You love Lila more than me.”
Lila (age 8) answers: “That’s not true. You love Zack more.”
Galit smiles and says: “You’re both wrong. I love daddy the most.”
We all laugh.
This story embodies our unpopular opinion:
Prioritize your marriage (read: long-term, committed relationship). Sometimes, even over your children.
Want to know why?
Here are the top five reasons:
It will strengthen your relationship.
Each relationship is actually composed of three different relationships: lovers (eroticism and sex), friends (intimacy and laughter), and partners (running a household and raising kids). From the moment children are born, partnership takes over most of the relational resources. Conversations become more logistical in nature (Who’s picking up from where? Who has a doctor’s appointment? Don’t forget to buy ketchup), and the erotic and friendship aspects are set aside.
Every day we meet couples in the clinic who are in deep crisis because they overfocused on their parenting (partnership) and lost their friendship and erotic life.
When you dedicate time and energy to maintaining and investing in your friendship and erotic life, you are investing in the long-term foundation of your relationship. Doing so ensures that you will stay good friends and lovers as you evolve as partners in the child-rearing business.
It creates a healthy environment for your children.
Children grow up in the relational space between their parents. They inhale the multifaceted, intimate, playful, and explorative energy between their parents as lovers and friends. When that relational space is loving, positive, and sensitive, your kids will internalize these qualities and values, as well as have a blueprint for what a healthy relationship looks and feels like.
When parents function mostly as partners, the relational space is generally more focused on efficiency and productivity (as well as function and survival, rather than emotional growth). This limited relational space will eventually limit your children’s relational environment, directly impacting the quality of their relationships.
It models healthy intimacy for your children.
The biggest gift you can give your children is happy parents in a healthy relationship. When you prioritize your relationship, you are modeling to your children how important (and rewarding!) it is to be in an intimate relationship. This helps shape their core belief that intimacy is positive, possible, and desired.
You are also modeling that relationships are hard work. This modeling will help your children not only recognize what a healthy relationship feels like but also know how to achieve it. With this visceral knowledge, together with a healthy model of an intimate relationship, they will be more likely as adults to choose a partner who knows how to prioritize, appreciate, and respect them.
It liberates your children to grow.
When a child senses that they are their parent’s primary focus (their joy, pride, namesake), they implicitly feel committed to please their parent. This can manifest as overinvolvement with their parents instead of their friends and/or partners (“I can’t go out with you tonight. My mom is alone and she’s so sad”).
Other times, parental-pleasing children develop a sense of responsibility over their parents' joy. They sense that they need to live their parents' wants or needs, rather than their own. Pleasing others results in self-alienation and disconnection from their own feelings and wants.
When parents prioritize their relationship, children know that their parents' emotional needs are being met by their mate, and there’s no expectation for them to be in charge of their parents' happiness. This liberates the child to look outside the family and explore the world, rather than constantly turn back and makie sure their parents are happy and fulfilled.
It’s a long-term investment in your happiness.
Being a parent is not easy. It’s a demanding, hierarchical, asymmetrical relationship in which you won’t always receive the same amount of appreciation and support as you invest.
But the relationship with your partner is meant to be symmetrical and reciprocal, with both sides investing and expressing appreciation. Investing in your relationship means investing in yourself, investing in a relationship where you will get love, encouragement, touch, sex, laughter, and companionship when the nest will empty. The more you invest in your relationship, the more the relationship will empower and reward you later.
Remember that your relationship existed before your kids, and will continue long after they leave the house.
So these are the five reasons why we prioritize our marriage even over our parenting.
What resonated with you? What didn’t? Why?
Here’s a little exercise: Tonight, after dinner, have an open, playful conversation about this topic and see what your kids say.
Miller, A. (1979).The drama of the gifted child. New York, NY: Basic Books.