You know the saying: What comes first, the chicken or the egg?
(No, I don’t know the answer, sorry)
But I always think of that little saying when I talk to someone about whether they put their marriage first over their kids.
Let me clarify that a little before you start telling me I’m a horrible mom.
You always take care of your children/stepchildren – their needs, their mental, physical, emotional well-being. Your kids are your number one responsibility – or your stepkids are your partner’s number one responsibility.
But your marriage? That should be your number one priority.
So you don’t neglect your children, of course, but to have a successful, long-lasting relationship, your put your marriage first, because at the end of the day, your kids are going to grow up and live their own lives. And your partner is the one who will be left.
There will be some who disagree with this way of thinking, and that’s okay, whatever works best for you. But many others who write about stepfamily dynamics (Martin, 2009, 2011; Newcomb Marine & Korf, 2013; Church, 2010) feel it is essential. With the divorce rate for second marriages (when children are involved) as high as 70%, clearly the marriage needs to be a top priority.
What does it mean to put your marriage first?
Putting your marriage first means deliberately taking time to communicate, connect, and create a united front as the stepcouple. To live and act like a team, to support one another in all aspects of your lives, particularly as parents, to date, to be affectionate, and to make sure the kids see you taking care of each other.
Think of it as being a role model for your children, modeling what they should look for in a partner down the road. And by making it clear to them that time together as adults is essential, it shows them that the world doesn’t revolve around their every want and desire. (This is a good thing).
Daily life can be overwhelming and exhausting, and so it can be very easy to take your partner for granted and to put all of your energy into other things – work, kids, meal planning, volunteering, caring for older parents, time with your friends, etc. But you must put the effort into nurturing your marriage, your bond, your connection… or else you may find one day that the flame has gone out.
How Do I Put My Marriage First?
It is deliberate, thoughtful action. It is a conscious decision and it is work. But it is work that reaps huge, huge rewards.
It doesn’t have to be spontaneous, romantic, sweeping gestures. In fact, many happy couples schedule dates and time to connect with one another. Here are a few examples of ways to make time for each other (these all came from friends of mine – great role models for me!):
- One night a week, wait until the kids are in bed and have a long, relaxed dinner together away from technology and other distractions
- Take “parent time” away from your kids. For example, one of my friends and her husband go to the basement to watch a movie together on Saturday nights. Their older daughter is allowed to stay up later, reading in her room, but she knows she is not invited to join them. They tell her it is time for mom and dad, and she can come down if she needs something, or to say good night
- When one of you comes home, greet each other with eye contact and a kiss. Take a couple of minutes to catch up with each other before getting pulled away by chores
- Have regular dates. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, you just need time together
- Turn chores into time to catch up. Fold the laundry together, wash and dry the dishes together – whatever the task, you can talk and connect over simple activities
- Talk to each other about all parenting decisions, and make sure the kids see you as a united front. *The exception to this is if you live in a stepfamily and you simply cannot get on the same parenting page. Many stepmoms have to step back from parenting tasks*
- Set up boundaries around your marriage to protect it from negativity. Many stepcouples fall apart because of the drama of the biological mother, misbehaviour of stepkids, or guilty parenting. It is a major challenge, but the more you can block this negativity from your lives, the better the chance of long-term success in your relationship
The grass is greener where you water it, so remember to put that effort in, have those conversations, and defy the statistics. We can change the story for stepfamilies, one at a time.
If you would like help and guidance building your strength as a stepcouple, Ali Wilks from Step by Step Mom Coaching and Stepcoupling has designed an informative and affordable class just for YOU, available only through Social Stepmom. We will be launching this course next month, so stay tuned!
You can also click HERE to read more about Ali’s second annual Stepcouple Retreat taking place in Canmore, Alberta this fall!