Much has been written of late about the importance of putting our marriages first. Perhaps we’ve seen how unpleasant children become when they are at the center of our universes. That coupled by the divorce rate in both the church and secular world have made psychologists and pastors a like place an emphasis on giving our spouses first place (well, second to God, that is), instead of our children.
I agree with this wholeheartedly, but agreeing and doing are two vastly different things. And like so many good things in life, making our spouses top priority doesn’t happen naturally. We love our husbands with an undying love, but the truth is, children will slowly but surely soak up every bit of time, physical and emotional energy and money we have, if we let them. When they are little, they need us to do almost everything for them, from providing meals to making sure they don’t kill themselves during their enthusiastic discovery of life.
We love our children so much, we worry about them so much and they need us so much that our husbands can slowly wind up at the bottom of the pile. This is even more so if we have demanding jobs or aging parents. Everything important vies for first place and it’s easy to take our marriages for granted and let that one slip.
So how do we do it, really? This is one of those things I’m discovering right along with you. I haven’t arrived at the elusive goal of Perfect Wife; I don’t do any of these things as consistently as I’d like, but it’s far better to have a goal and fall short of it than to have no goal at all.
Here are a few suggestions, if you, like me, are trying to figure out how Godly priorities actually happen in day-to-day life.
#1: Time alone together at home with no kids around. Many of us understand the value of regular date nights. And date nights are incredibly important. We need to get out of the house sans kids, do something fun and different and reconnect on an emotional level. We need time away from computers, televisions, cell phones and dirty dishes where we can focus on US.
But we also need time, everyday, when we’re home together and the kids are in bed. Even if we’re doing our own thing (working, writing, watching TV or reading), if the kids are out of sight, we have emotional space to have casual conversation and gel as a couple. We might comment on the book we’re reading, or a problem at work or laugh at a funny TV show. Even though we’re not having serious, concentrated conversation, we still learn something about each other in a casual way. With kids bouncing around, this rarely happens, especially at night when they’re either tired and whiny or tired and hyper. There will always be evenings when we go our own separate ways to have dinner with a friend, or attend a church event, or work late at the office, but on those nights when we are both at home together, it’s important that there is a pocket of time when we’re just couples again.
I think a good rule of thumb is two hours: two hours at night when you’re awake and your kids aren’t. So if you can’t stay awake past 10, put them in bed by 8. If they’re old enough, they can always read in bed if they’re not tired enough to sleep yet. But avoid the tendency of letting them stay up so late that you hit the sack as soon as they do. It’s just not healthy: for you, for your kids or for your marriage. You need that same emotional space as a couple that you may get during the day when your older kids are in school and your youngest is napping. It’s time to breath, time to slow down, time to think, time to love.
#2: Be as attentive to your husband’s preferences as you are to your children’s. For example: sometimes I find myself thinking only about what the kids like to eat and fail to think about what my husband likes. My kids love pasta and tolerate rice. My husband loves rice and tolerates pasta. It would be easy to serve some sort of pasta dish 5 out of 7 nights a week because I know the kids will eat it – without complaining. But that leaves my husband merely tolerating most of the meals I cook. And that doesn’t seem right. So I try to have a variety, knowing sometimes the kids will love it and sometimes Marvin will (and on a few occasions, everyone will!). My husband shouldn’t be the only one compromising.
#3: Get the rest you need to be his friend, and his lover. Sometimes at the end of the day, it’s very hard for me to concentrate when Marvin is trying to tell me about his day. I want to know how things are going at work, but I’m so tired. In my flesh, I just want to veg out. So if I am particularly tired I make myself take a nap mid-day, instead of getting distracted by dirty dishes or email, just so that I’ll have more energy at night. Let’s face it, you want your husband to try to be attentive to your needs, even when he’s busy or tired, and he wants the same from you.
Also, at times I say No to the kids when they want to do some strenuous activity because I’m already tired and if I agree to a 3 mile bike ride, I’ll be toast. I’m consciously trying not to let them suck every last drop of life out of me so that there’s nothing left for anybody else.
#4: Make your bedroom into a cozy refuge, not just a place to sleep. I learned this from some dear friends whose marriage I admire. They have a warm coffee nook in their bedroom where every morning they drink coffee alone together. This is especially important as kids become teenagers and don’t go to bed at 8:00 anymore. It’s an attractive, romantic space, not a kid space.
#5: Pray for your husbands as much as you pray for your kids: for their safety, success and protection on every level.
At the end of the day, we want our husbands to put us before their jobs. Even though they spend more hours there than at home, we want to know we come first. Our husbands want the same.
We love our kids enough to die for them, but in 18 years, they will probably leave home and never return (except for visits). They will fall in love (God willing) and get married and start their own families and we will fall a few notches on their priority list. By God’s grace, we will always be close to our kids and be there for each other, but their spouses and children will come before us. That’s God’s design, and it’s a good, healthy thing.
Your husband is the only person you cut covenant with; it is to him alone that you made a solemn vow to stay with for your entire life. You have become one flesh. That’s powerful and sacred and wonderful. Make sure you are just as close and just as in love when your kids leave home as you were on your wedding day. It will take work, but I want to be in love when I’m an empty nester, don’t you?