Myself, my spouse, or my kids?
Mary & John – Relationship on the Rocks
Mary loved her kids. She always put them first and worked hard to make sure they were well taken care of. However, her relationship was turning stale and sour. She and John, her husband, argued a lot.
John wanted more attention from his wife. He thought that she spent too much time with the kids and not enough time with him. The kids were growing up and he thought they didn’t need as much care and attention as she was giving them. Why won’t she just let them grow up? He wondered.
Mary thought John was being selfish. He must not care about our children as much as I do, she thought. All he cares about is himself!
Janet & Jake – Starting a New Family
Janet and Jake had the perfect relationship. Then the day came that Janet got pregnant. They were overjoyed and thought their family was going to be perfect together, it was an absolute dream come true. During her pregnancy, Janet and Jake bonded and grew closer than ever.
Then the baby came. Suddenly, life was not nearly as perfect as they had envisioned. The baby had so many demands! They rarely had time for each other anymore. As the child grew, so did the responsibilities. Janet and Jake found themselves growing further and further apart. There just wasn’t any time for each other. Jake worked long hours to financially support their family and Janet juggled her part-time job with taking care of their child. At the end of the day, they were both just too exhausted and grouchy to spend any meaningful time together.
As John had grown up with learning to internalize his feelings and not showing his vulnerabilities, he did not know how to share how much he missed Janet’s attention and started having an extramarital affair. Janet found out and could not believe John would be so selfish. John argued that he only did it because she didn’t have time for him anymore. He didn’t seem remorseful at all to her. But how could Janet understand such infidelity? She worked just as hard as he did. Divorce seemed imminent.
So, Who Comes First in a Relationship?
When working with couples, such situations are common in my therapy practice. They beg the question, Who comes first in the relationship? Myself, my spouse, or my kids? For many, the answer may easily be the children come first in the relationship. However, there are different angles to consider in setting priorities in your relationship.
Research has proven that if you are not doing ok, your loved ones are influenced by this. It may seem foreign and weird when someone tells you to put yourself and your own happiness first, as many feel it’s selfish. Prioritising yourself does not mean that your own interest always comes first. To find the right balance – in your unique context – is key. You may even find that when you meet your own needs first, you are able to meet others’ needs in a better way.
For example, creating “me-time” is important, also in relationships. The problem is many people get so lost in their busy daily lives and taking care of things and others, that they don’t create me-time, with trying to accomplish all that needs to be done. Craving alone time is normal as it’s a chance to refresh and reboot so there is positive energy in supply for yourself. It also helps you to maintain your sense of individuality and identity, a major need for success in today’s relationships and society, where happiness expectations continue to rise.
Time for each other should be high on the priority list also, as relationships are often taken for granted, once you are part of one. Awareness leads to growth, also in relationships. You can notice this by how connected you feel, for example. Sadly, making a conscious effort – without a crisis- rarely occurs. However, the desire for time for yourself and time for each other is there more often than not.
Also, most women I know, put children before husband and before themselves. They may not tell their husband that, but they do. Which moves both the me-time, as well as couple-time further down the priority list. Like Mary said; “The love for my children is unconditional, the love for my husband is for who he is. And self-love? I have never really considered prioritizing me, to be honest.”
When children are prioritized, one runs the danger of neglecting the relationship. “We parents today, are too quick to sacrifice our lives and our marriage for our kids,” David Code, therapist and Wall Street Journal contributor, writes in his book To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. “But as we break our backs for our kids, our marriage and self-fulfillment go out of the window.” This can lead to feelings of resentment, neglect, resignation, and alienation.
It is natural and beneficial for parents to make child-rearing a priority in their relationship. It is better to care too much than to care too little. However, doing so to a fault can lead to unexpected and unwanted consequences for the children and for the relationship. Some more obvious dangers in putting children first in the relationship are overindulgence and overprotection.
Tips for Having the Right Priorities in Your Relationship
The amount of time together matters but it’s more about how that time is used!
- You. Set aside some – reasonable – time each week to focus on relaxation and doing the things you want to do for yourself. This is the time for self-reflection and for allowing a different perspective without anyone or anything needing or wanting something from you. Taking me-time will help you refresh your outlook, become aware of your own needs and desires, it increases your energy supply and helps maintain your sense of self (and your sanity!).
- Make Time For Each Other. Make sure there is some time set aside each week for you and your partner to focus on each other. This allows you and your spouse to really engage with one another. Having intimate conversations will help guarantee you both feel heard and seen and will help encourage and maintain the bond between you, as well as strengthen your trust in each other. Try to make eye contact and really see the other, or try touching each other and really feel one another.
- Tune in. Learn to see your partner’s perspective. Communicate your needs in a loving way by sharing how you really feel, for example by indicating when me-time is needed. This requires a certain level of trust, which will enable you to share vulnerabilities, without fear of rejection. In this way, you create an openness that in turn leads to a feeling of safety in your relationship. By tuning into one another, you learn to move from ‘me’ to ‘we’. A great example for children too!
- Children; form a team. Take good care of your children, but keep in mind that you, as parents, form a team together. There must be a clear hierarchy within a family. Each family consists of systems; the parental subsystem is the most important one and belongs on top. This way, children learn what position they take within the family and can grow up from the child-position. This makes it a great team, one where parents – together – are in charge.
If you are interested in strengthening the bonds of your relationship, the Time For Each Other programs are a great way to go. It’s accelerated, which means it can start improving your relationship within days, not weeks like other relationship-strengthening programs take. I am a board-certified relationship therapist and psychologist that realizes there’s more that goes into making a relationship work than love, and I am eager to show you the ropes to strengthening your relationship’s bond. Time For Each Other is a program that I designed to answer a calling I felt to create a program that would have answered to my problems in my own time of need. I have already helped many with their relationships and would love to help you to improve yours.
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