Marriage: How to be a Great Spouse
Be a Great Spouse First and Foremost—Getting Your Relational Priorities Straight
I stood in the entrance of my son’s home with him and two of his guy friends. It was moments before their departure to fly south for a 1-week cruise together. Their wives were buzzing around getting the last few things gathered and discussed before the six of them would drive away. My wife was getting the final briefing on the grandkids. You could feel the excitement and anticipation of the ‘getaway’ in the air, like thoroughbreds at the racetrack panting to feel the release of the gate.
But it was there, in those short moments, standing with these three men that I first spoke what I am going to share with you. I thoroughly believe it is a great insight – and to me – clearly a God-given observation. I have replayed this concept for significance and time-tested it for reliability. I deeply believe you can bet on it. Here’s a paraphrase of what I said to them that morning.
“Can I say something to you? (an obvious attempt to go beyond casual chitchat to speak into their lives. As they nodded, I continued.) I am really proud of you guys. Good for you for keeping your marriage a priority by going on this cruise. Your marriage is more important than your parenting. Work to love your wives well. And remember this, being a good dad doesn’t make you a good husband (all fathers of 3-4 children). But almost without exception, being a great husband also makes you a good dad.”
The more I have thought about this, the more I like it. Why? Because I believe it is true. It appears to be a core principle to anchor your life to. I have worked hard to think of someone who is a great husband who was not also a great father. I am not coming up with names. You try. But I see many good dads who are far from amazing husbands. I think the same is true for women as wives versus mothers. Priorities in relationships affect us all.
Many times in my counselling with families someone has said, “in spite of how he has messed up in his marriage, he’s still a good dad.” Even disgruntled wives who are ready to leave their husbands often will still concede that. But men too are leaving their spouses because of the great disconnect that happens when this new, insatiable baby desire drives their wife at all costs to be a great mother. Motherhood wins far too often. More to follow on dads.
Why We Gravitate Towards the Kids
Face it and no surprise; children demand more of our attention. The squeakiest wheel does get the grease. From the moment of birth, they are instantly and fully dependent on us. For women especially, there is a deep bond of nurturing necessity that creates an undeniable attachment.
The parent-child relationship is also the easier one. It starts from a position of them adoring us and it grows from there. That’s pretty easy to take. They almost have to love us. After all, we gave them life and selflessly sustain their existence more than they know.
Children need us completely and it’s so nice to feel needed. They almost love us by default. Hugs and affection come freely and often. It’s such a joy to love and be loved. Too often parents focus on this exchange of adoration in the absence of a good marital connection.
Further, children are literally part of us. DNA proves it. We were part of their creation – women slightly more than men – ok, so a lot more – 9 months versus 9 moments. But either way, that physical bond with the child is unchanging and permanent.
Parents also control their children’s world. They call all the shots. Don’t try that with your spouse. But with kids, for the first 5 years plus, schedules, meals, activities, friends, pastimes and more are determined by mom or dad. The power of influence is both daunting and intoxicating. And we so desperately want to be a great parent.
Sadly, I have seen many women relegate their marriage almost overnight to second place in light of the birth of the first child. I can understand for a season of 4 to 6 months but long term – no way. Men really feel this distancing and their wife’s shift in relational priorities. They are no longer number one.
Equally unfortunate as the kids get older is when fathers get so involved in the kids activities – I see it often in sports – that they ignore their wives and have no time to connect let alone date. Though these women love that their husband is involved with the kids, does it really have to mean no time for “US”?
Why the Marriage is Often Harder
Our mate is our peer and in varying degrees is in a power struggle with us in our marriage. Agreements with our spouse are harder to achieve than merely requiring obedience from our children. Our spouse is autonomous and independent. Good marriages happen when a couple surrenders to each other – when they move their thinking from “me” to “we” (which is said to take 10 years on average). Strong opinions in marriage have to be negotiated through. This is not an easy transition.
Our spouses are also fully separate and different from us. Opposites attract and we were drawn to those distinctives in them. But because they come with a mind of their own, we don’t shape their views and opinions like we impact our kids. We have to work to collaborate with and accommodate our mates. That’s so different than the direct control of the life of our kids. Spouses don’t fall in line like an obedient child. Complicated.
Marriage is a great bond but not a natural bond. It’s the merging of two lives and not the cancelling of one. Sometimes that merger is like pulling cats through a keyhole. There’s plently of howling and scratching and clawing. Besides, I can hide my selfishness and idiosyncrasies from my kids but my spouse can often see right through me. A great marriage takes work but it is worth the work.
Why We Need to Keep Our Marriage in Higher Priority
Beyond a couple’s faith in God, a marriage is the most important relationship and should remain so. J. Allen Peterson, the Christian Family Educator and Psychologist, said, “the greatest gift you can give your children is love your spouse”. You are happier on a day-to-day basis and the result is a home that enjoys peace and harmony from the top down. Kids see it and feel it. A strong marriage brings an undeniable strength, security and stability to a child’s world. I observe and I teach it. Marital harmony also gives a credible example to the next generation of how God wants this primary relationship to work. It makes the future homes in your “down-line” stronger than you can imagine. They are watching you 24/7 and seeing how to do life and marriage well. Make a lasting impact with your marriage.
My final challenge and encouragement — be a great parent but work at being a better spouse first. A great spouse will always be a great parent.
Oh and by the way, it doesn’t have to be a cruise to stay connected as a couple but it doesn’t hurt.
© Dr. Dave Currie – August 2015
Feature image used with permission: © fotolia.com/image #60151051/Monkey Business.