Do You Love Your Spouse Enough?: The Uncomfortable Truth About Who Should Rank #1 Among Our Spouses, Children & Parents

Comments 123
Who's #1?
(Image/The Bullvine)

Where does your spouse or romantic partner rank in your life?

Take all the time you need to think before answering. Just don’t be a lying doucheface when you make your list.

Ever have your wife ask you to fold a basket of laundry or clean up after dinner, and you said you would but really you just ended up playing video games all night? Unless it was a legit one-time incident, don’t rank your spouse ahead of video games on your list.

Ever have your husband ask you to not complain about him to your mother or discuss intimate details of your private sex life with your friends? Unless you did so as part of consulting those you trust for marital wisdom, don’t rank your spouse ahead of gossiping with your friends, mom, or whoever.

I think many—perhaps most—people have other things and people ranked ahead of their spouses. They won’t say it. But they don’t have to. You can see what people do.

Ranking anything ahead of your spouse is the most surefire way I know to create mistrust and instability in a marriage which often leads to divorce and almost always unhappiness for everyone involved.

Here’s how I think many married guys would publically rank their Life Things (I’m intentionally leaving Faith out of the conversation as it often proves to be an unproductive and distracting argument starter – though I think it’s fair to note that I’ve never heard of a divorce resulting from two people putting their God and faith first in their marriage):

  1. Marital Family
  2. Family of Origin
  3. Job
  4. Friends
  5. Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity

But here’s how I think many married guys actually prioritize their Life Things, according to their actions:

  1. Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity
  2. Job
  3. Friends
  4. Family of Origin
  5. Marital Family

I work hard at not blaming my ex-wife for our divorce. I get more blog comments and private messages encouraging me to start putting more blame on her than I’d prefer. Each and every message like that tends to signify that someone doesn’t understand what it means to accept personal responsibility, which means they’re going to feel like a victim every time something bad happens for their rest of their lives until they learn how to flip that around.

But there are thousands of wives reading here too, and several have asked for help understanding what kinds of wifely behavior can destroy a marriage.

And for me, it was THIS.

I feel like my wife prioritized her family of origin over our marriage. Later, she doubled-down by giving 95% of herself to our son when it was just the three of us. I thought I was being noble by not calling that one out. ALSO, I’d already screwed up so badly at being a husband by that point, that there’s no intellectually honest or fair way to predict how she might have been after childbirth had I been a kick-ass husband leading up to becoming parents.

What About the Kids? Shouldn’t They Come First?

Nope. They shouldn’t. And, as a father who loves his little boy more than anything else on this planet, I struggle writing that.

It twists my insides a little. That’s usually how I know something is true — when it feels uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Prioritizing anyone or anything over your wife or husband is the most surefire way I know to destroy your family.

In marriage, either your spouse is #1, or you’re doing it wrong.

I say that without judgment. I’m divorced largely because I prioritized all kinds of bullshit ahead of my wife and our relationship.

I offer it only as a thought exercise, because I think MOST married people put at least something ahead of their marriage.

And yes, that includes our children. And yes, that includes our parents and families of origin. And yes, that idea makes me uncomfortable.

But it’s still true.

“WAIT. Matt. Are you seriously saying we should choose our husbands and wives over our children? I can ALMOST understand the parents thing. But the kids? My kids come first no matter what!”

Do they really?

When we teach our children that they are the most important things in life, and that if they want our attention they’re going to get it, and that if they need something it is magically done for them, and that the marriage between mom and dad isn’t the top priority, what happens?

Bad news: You end up getting someone like me. (Sorry mom.)

You raise kids who grow up believing they’re uniquely special even though they’re not.

You raise kids who lack self-sufficiency and grow up expecting their partners to do things for them that their parents used to.

You raise kids who have no idea what a loving, high-functioning, healthy, mutually respectful marriage looks like. A marriage between two people who truly cherish one another and maintain their romantic and sexual spark through MINDFUL INTENTION and channeling energy into the human being they promised to love, honor and serve for the rest of their lives.


Shameless Self-Promotion Note About My Coaching Services

I started coaching in 2019. Clients and I work collaboratively through current and past relationship stuff in order to improve existing relationships or to prepare for future ones. Other clients are trying to find themselves after divorce or a painful breakup. We talk by phone or video conference. People like it. Or at least they fake it really well by continuing to schedule future coaching calls and give me more money. If you’re going through something and think I might be able to help, it’s really easy to find out for sure. Learn More Here.


The Adam and Eve bible story famously depicts the first marriage. In the story, you’ll find the word “cleave” which describes what we’re supposed to do to our spouse.

The word “cleave” means “to adhere to, stick to, or join with.” I think it’s reasonable to assume the spiritual text is promoting a metaphorical bond of unity between them beyond promoting the literal act of inserting a penis into a vagina, but surely we can celebrate both the figurative and literal in this particular instance.

Don’t Marry Until You’re Ready to Make Her/Him #1

You’ll be doing your girlfriend or boyfriend, their family and friends, and any children or pets you may one day share a HUGE favor by doing this.

Please remember: You don’t have to get married, and maybe you shouldn’t.

If your parents or siblings mean more to you than your partner, and you feel inside as if you’d choose them over the person you’re considering marrying, then DO NOT get married.

If your job or your friends or the fun things you like to do mean more to you than your partner, DO NOT get married.

And *big swallow*, if your children mean more to you than your partner, and you believe catering to their needs at the expense of your partner’s is the right thing to do, then I think your marriage is a ticking time bomb. (NOTE: I’m writing specifically about married moms and dads who made babies together. I think it’s both fair and proper for divorced or otherwise single parents to prioritize their children over people they’re dating when there’s still uncertainty about whether marriage is in the future.)

Physician Danielle Teller, in “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage,” wrote, “Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood. Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home… Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for new empty nesters?”

You’re born to your parents. They and any siblings are all you know and love.

Family by birth. Love tends to be part of the package.

When you’re older, and your offspring are born, you are all they know and love. You’re their everything. And the intense love we feel for our children is something beyond description.

But still. Family by birth. And again, the love is easy. We tend to not need reminders to feel love for our kids.

But our spouse. THAT is a particularly unique and special relationship. That’s not inherited. Love is not some pre-packaged thing that comes along with dating or marriage like it does with being born into a family or having kids of your own.

Your spouse is someone you CHOOSE. Out of every human being—billions of them—you choose that person.

It is a love as rich and powerful as we have for our parents and children, but it’s one that is grown. Something purely voluntary.

Love is a choice we must make every day.

More and more, people are coming to understand this, but often when their marriage is in shambles and they’re trying to figure out why, or in the aftermath of a painful divorce.

I didn’t know what marriage REALLY was when I asked her to marry me, or when I said “I do.” The proof was in the pudding.

If more people entered marriage committed to this idea of putting their spouse first, and why it’s such an important mindset, I think a lot more marriages would go the distance because they’d never deteriorate to begin with.

You honor your parents when you put your spouse first. You comfort them because they know you’re safe and secure, and that their grandchildren are well cared for.

You honor your children when you put your spouse first. You teach them that they are, in fact, NOT the center of the universe and that the best way to live is to be aware of other people’s needs. You teach them what marriage is supposed to look like. You provide a safe and unbreakable home. You provide a lifelong foundation from which to build their futures.

You honor yourself when you put your spouse first. Because you are living for something greater than yourself and are less likely to die alone with herpes on your mouth.

Your parents will pass one day. It will be hard. You’ll carry on because your spouse is always first and he or she will carry you through the grief and transition. You will provide the same support for her or him.

Your children will move out one day. It will be hard. You’ll carry on because your spouse is always first and he or she will carry you through the major life adjustment. You will provide the same support for her or him.

And there you’ll be. In the future. Waking up every day seeking purpose and adventure.

And when we have spent the years putting our spouse first, we won’t have to look very hard to find either.

123 thoughts on “Do You Love Your Spouse Enough?: The Uncomfortable Truth About Who Should Rank #1 Among Our Spouses, Children & Parents”

    1. I think it’s mostly semantics. I think putting your spouse first IS putting your kids first.

      I think putting your kids first at the expense of your marriage is damaging to the kids. So there’s some counterintuitive things happening here.

      It’s not my place to judge other people’s opinions. I imagine the concept of NOT putting your kids first will feel very uncomfortable for most people who have never thought about this approach to love and marriage.

      I’m not talking about neglecting or ignoring children. I’m not talking about neglecting or ignoring our families of origin.

      I’m merely saying that if our spouses feel like they’re our highest priority, and if we feel as if we are their’s, I think a lifetime of good things happens afterward.

      I don’t believe there’s a happy ending to any other choice, unless it’s simply: Stay single forever.

      1. It’s easy for me because my spouse and I just naturally seem to evaluate the impact our actions will have on our child. One can’t say I love this one or that one most because we are comparing the nature of adult love to the love of our child …apples and oranges.

        1. somecallmejack

          The question, at leas to me, is whether your kid(s) are growing up in a secure environment where they *know* (because they can see it every day) that Mom and Dad love and honor and prioritize and value each other. If that’s true, everything falls into place.

          If the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are storming through the house, the kids will grow up insecure in all kinds of ways and literally labor under that curse in their adult relationships, intimate and otherwise.

          Matt can give me 40 lashes here, but I will say that in this one area I am tempted to think that women may have a little more responsibility for things going off the rails. It’s easy to listen to the cultural messages and put the kids above the marriage and the kid’s/kids’ dad. Dads don’t get off lightly, either. Half of them would rather play golf or video games in the first place, and the other half get bitter because they didn’t speak up for the marriage, either because they, too, were listening to the cultural messages or because they were too conflict avoidant.

          Kids don’t need another sport or another instrument or some other extracurricular activity that in many cases are the products of the parents’ insecurities about how to raise their kids well and give them a solid launch into adulthood – or even worse, parents’ desires to assuage their insecurities by making their kids into some little ego-boosting mechanism so the adults can boast about sporting or musical achievements or college admissions or whatever…

          End of rant, apologies. I feel pretty strongly about this…

        2. I would caution people not to confuse LOVE with PRIORITIZING.

          I can NEVER love something or someone more than my son. Unimaginable.

          But I can (hypothetically, in my sweet flux-capacitor-powered DeLorean) prioritize his mother.

          We don’t punish our children because we like upsetting them. We punish them to teach lessons and help them grow into better people with good values.

          We don’t prioritize our spouses over children because we prefer to neglect the kids or show favoritism, or whatever. We prioritize our spouses because it’s what will help our children grow into better people with good values.

          That’s my take. I might be wrong.

          1. No, I think you’re right. And yes – it IS good for the kids, but even that is a skewed view of it.
            The relationships are different, and yes the live is way different,too. I have heard so many times from both men and women that they never thought they could love anything to the depth and length and whatever other unit of measurement you want to use.
            And, Jack – I think you may be a little right that women can go full force into being a mother as an identity. The mother child bond is huge, and sometimes may feel like a safer way to love.
            But the spouse relationship, is different. Your equals, for one thing. And the relationship that brought the child into the world would ideally last (even if it changed) after the child leaves.
            The marital relationship is important because your job as parents is to help this child grow into a whole functioning adult. – to become more independent and self differentiated.
            When the child comes first, and that language sounds harsh…maybe it should be parenting? Would that be acceptable? Parenting should come after being a spouse? …And since parenting is an ALL the time thing, I don’t mean first chronologically. I mean it is something that is tended to regularly. …When one spouse makes parenting a priority, over the other spouses, I would say there is usually an underlying need of the parent that isn’t being addressed.

          2. Sorry, I am going to try one more time.
            Saying “The marriage should come first because it benefits the kid” is still sort of pointing the spot light on the kid coming first.
            I don’t knew if that is any different than “saying together for the kids” even when the relationship is bad.
            Parenting is an important part of marriage, but it isnt THE marriage.
            While y be true in the past, I don’t think many of us get married in order to have kids. They are sort of a byproduct of love.
            There was a reason that relationship was important in the beginning, and it remains important during your tenure as parent of a growing person, and afterwards as a parent to an differentiated human being with their own purpose and life ahead of them.
            I think the secret in all of this is knowing how to see and appreciate the people that you are in relationship with.
            …and I didn’t mean to suggest that anyone who does prioritize their child first has something wrong with them, or is psychologically deficient…like I said, it’s easier (natural) and safer to love a child. They love you back so luck easier and quicker. At least until they hit puberty..:/. .. 🙂

      2. İf putting child first means neglecting spouse than putting spouse first means neglecting kids. Putting the childs-last in a family is something i cannot accept. Also i grow up in a child first family but i never felt like i am the center of the universe.

  1. somecallmejack

    IMO/IME it is a drastic, fundamental mistake to put the kids first. They wind up growing up in a family where all the relationship modeling is ‘off,’ possibly (by the time they get to college) drastically, even catastrophically wrong. Consequences:

    1. The formerly loving parents wind up divorced, possibly bitterly so, or at best estranged and living separate, parallel lives.

    2. The children go into their adult years with bad, broken modeling for healthy relationships that will dog them and their children down the years.

    In contrast, if the parents cherish their marriage and each other, the kids grow up feeling totally secure, and learn/absorb a solid grounding in healthy relationships that will stand them in great stead for the rest of their lives.

    At almost 60 years old, I have so many examples of the former. I know I am fighting all the cultural wisdom and norms, but the culture is just plain wrong.

    1. I’m happy to see this post, as I’ve had this conversation (about putting kids before marriage) so many times.

      I think it’s extremely destructive to both the kids and the marriage, and in the end no one really benefits.

      A while back I was at a funeral, and the daughter spoke about how her dad loved her mom deeply and growing up she always knew that and saw that. I thought it was beautiful, and was very conscious of the fact that I don’t think that’s anywhere near as common as it should be.

      After the priest said his bit, and one of the the things he commented on was how “the greatest gift any parent can give their child is to love their partner”.

      I think keeping the love and the relationship alive is SO important to keeping the family healthy and strong. And that doesn’t happen if the kids always come first.

    1. It is so HARD to accept that if your partner is not putting you first, then well, you are just not their priority, and there is really nothing you can do about that… Thanks for being so clear on this… it’s all true, just very hard to accept… ;-(

      1. I completely agree with this comment (and the whole post). Very true, but hard to accept and sometimes put into practice.

      2. I just wrote on this yesterday. Sometimes people will “say” their partner/relationship is important, but thier actions don’t back that up. It’s the actions that matter, and when you aren’t a priority to someone I think you always know it. As you said, it’s hard to accept, but you can always tell.

      3. kellyatthecoast, I FEEL YOU. I had a bag packed ready to go I was so over not being put first for my entire 15 years of marriage. We were separated and I thought I was about to be home free. Then he changed his mind, and now leaving is impossible. So I’m stuck. I love my husband—always have, always will—but I am having to grieve living in a marriage where I will never be a priority, or even close. It sucks. You are not alone.

    1. I have a note in this post that this discussion is limited to a mother and father and the children they have together.

      It’s a much different conversation when you’re talking about single parents meeting strangers who don’t love your kids, and who your children may not even know exist (I don’t discuss dating with my son, for example. He’s never met anyone. That’s by design.)

    2. Tough one there. In some ways, it’s clear to me that your kids need to be first. But as the relationship hopefully strengthens, the “new person” needs to rise in the priority list significantly. They may never exceed the kids, but I think they need to get pretty damned close to even.

      1. I want to believe that there doesn’t have to be competition. Hopefully the family unit does care for everyone’s needs. Though, I know from books I’ve read step “others” can feel like an outsider for a long time…but again, if relationships develope between the child and step, and the spouses continue to care for their relationship, I feel like it could be harmonious.

        1. All I have to go on is my personal experiences as a child. Because I’m blessed to have pretty solid-character people as parents, they chose pretty solid-character people to remarry.

          My stepdad and stepmom and their extended families have been a wonderful part of my life. They are family.

          There most certainly doesn’t have to be competition. If the words “competition” or feeings of competition or drama of ANY kind is present because of kids and potential new stepparents, I think there are probably some significant red flags there.

          Anyone with children who isn’t considering their children’s wellbeing as part of their partner selection and decision to marry probably has a number of other emotional issues and problems setting boundaries.

          Assuming a single mother or father IS considering their children’s wellbeing in their dating lives and decisions whether to remarry, then I think the assumption can be that there won’t be any Us vs. Them going on.

          When you love someone, you typically reserve a special place for the people and things THEY love.

          If someone is pitting themselves against your children, or pitting THEIR children against yours, I would suggest running far, far, far away and never looking back.

          No happy ending to that story.

          Any legit remarriage candidate will navigate the parent-child relationship with maturity, humility, patience, and selflessness. They MUST. Because those are what is required of parenting, whether or not you played a biological role in bringing the kids into the world.

          1. It is interesting to note how many step parents commonly feel left out, ignored and over-looked within their own home. I know that I have struggled with this for the entirety of our marriage. Step daughter comes over/moves in, wife suddenly wears Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility, whilst still managing the household, cleaning, cooking, shopping, working and basically looking after the people she loves (including step daughter because she is family, is a great kid and wife loves husband so loves daughter too).

            When step daughter replaces wife in status, attention, consultation, honouring, respecting, hanging out, with wife being told and shown repeatedly that she has no say in her home, is not allowed any personal boundaries, the x can waltz into her home without knocking, husband has no interest in her discomfort, husband breaks wife’s personal boundaries, calls her nasty names when she asks him to respect them, refuses to set boundaries with x, tells wife she is “wrong” and tells wife that the step daughters needs, x’s needs, the x’s other kids needs (to second husband) come before wife then what does a wife do?

            I have 2 choices, resign myself to being a doormat in my own home or leave as clearly my spouse’s priority for our marriage is way after his daughter, x, x’s other kids, x’s x and the x’s dog (which we now have as she lied to her landlord about owning a pet, got sprung and guess who cleans up her mess again? Yep, us). Do I just swallow the hurt, the disrespect, the dismissiveness, the “I don’t agree so your perspective isn’t valid” comments? How long does one fight to be heard?

            I never wanted for my step daughter to be neglected or not have her needs met, I just wanted to be consulted and considered BEFORE decisions were made, and for her needs not to come at the expense of mine and our marriage.

            So I did exactly what Mat wrote about. I fought for 9 years and then I ran. Game over? Probably. If the person you love refuses to even listen and accept your perspective as valid, where do you go from there? Nowhere. There is no accommodation so there can be no negotiation of needs, boundaries or otherwise. Relationships contain the word relate. I don’t need to be right, I don’t need to “get my way”, I just needed the person I loved to hear me and maybe, just maybe, be my friend and act as if I mattered too.

          2. somecallmejack

            I am sorry. 🙁 In an empathetic way, not a responsible way.

            That seems like such a common thread.

            I’m reading Andrea Miller’s _Radical Acceptance_ and as nearly as I can figure, her and her husband’s principal complaints at one time were that they did not feel like they were each other’s priority.

            I know in my own marriage my only real complaint is that I feel like I come in way down the list, even with both kids long since grown and departed.

            It’s a shitty feeling…

          3. somecallmejack

            Wow, old thread! 🙂 In some ways I am a million miles from nine months ago, in other ways, maybe not so far. This piece tugged on my heart:

            “I don’t need to be right, I don’t need to “get my way”, I just needed the person I loved to hear me and maybe, just maybe, be my friend and act as if I mattered too.”

            The process of continuing to peel the onion of my life and marriage has led to a growing appreciation that I was badly abused when I was young and grew up in a very dysfunctional family. Here’s the chord that your post struck: I feel so alone. I think my wife is now scared and very wary of where things are. I understand if she feels like she needs a lot of distance, but it makes trying to get my life and mind on a better path so much harder. :-\

  2. In my ideal world, the following is true: If in doubt, prioritize your marriage before your children because you were a wife (husband) before you had children, and you will still be a
    wife (husband) after the children are grown and have left your home.

  3. I will admit to focussing a lot of attention on my kids during the times my partner’s priorities were elsewhere. Chicken and egg ? When it felt to all of us that his needs/wants trumped ours we watched him go there. I had no control over that. But I did have control over my kids feeling important and valued and for a long time that came from me.

    Now that he has focussed positive energy toward us again I feel more able to lighten my focus on kids as they are receiving positive attention from BOTH parents. Leaves me with confidence that he will connect with them around THEIR interests, not just his. Leaves me with more energy and desire to connect with him again.

    Funny – he tells me a switch flipped in his head when I listed my priorities for him one day and he was at top, kids were second and friends were at the bottom and that they’d all told me they respected and understood my absence as I was stretched so thin with the top two and work responsibilities. I came home from work to heartfelt tears and an apology that day. Followed by a list of things he’s grateful for.

    1. Chicken-and-egg, for sure. This thought is really geared for people BEFORE marriage, and how to think about it heading in.

      Most of us around here are divorced, long married, or in the midst of a shitty, dying marriage.

      More and more I think about the young poeple who are thinking about getting married some day or actively planning it.

      Maybe if a younger version of me reads the right paragraph, it can flip the right switch, and send him down a path where good things happen for him, his wife, and children.

      That would be nice.

      I like this story. Thank you for sharing it.

      1. PS – I’d also sent him the link to your “she feels like your mom and doesn’t want to bang you” entry. It probably helped ?
        Apparently he’s been doing some reading here.

        1. It’s always amazing to read that something here moved the needle for someone. So, thank you for mentioning that.

  4. “That’s usually how I know something is true — when it feels uncomfortable and inconvenient.”

    That really REALLY jumped out at me … as did THIS …

    “Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood. Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home… Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for new empty nesters?”

    OUCH …

    Powerful and thought provoking … Thank you, Matt, for writing what I needed to read …

  5. Have to say, not feeling like I was a priority at all (like, ever) to my soon to be ex-wife was a huge factor in marital dissatisfaction for me.

    It wouldn’t have been as bad if it was kids 1 and me 2, but it was kids 1, and pretty much anything else 2-100. I’m not sure where I fell on the scale. If you ask her, I was a priority to her. But based on behaviour, and how much time/effort she put into doing pretty much anything with me? Yeah, I didn’t see it.

    Based on the past few years of my life I have what is perhaps an irrational hatred of cell-phones. When someone won’t even raise their eyes from the latest round of candy-crush or what is happening on facebook to look at you, you know something is seriously wrong.

    So many times I just wanted to grab that phone from her hands and throw it against a wall.

    For me moving forward, incessant cell-phone usage is a deal breaker for me. If someone is more interested in their phone, no problem, spend the day/evening with your phone. I don’t need to be there.

    1. I used to have fantasies about destroying my ex’s cell phone. Couldn’t ever tell when it was work taking his attention and when it was games or texting with other women. I just knew I wasn’t his priority. Still makes me sad.

      1. Agreed, 100%. And when I found out she was having an affair it definitely made me wonder if she was texting with him while I was right there next to her.

        Whether candy crush, Facebook, texting a friend or having an affair it didn’t really matter though. In the end it was her prioritizing pretty much everything else above trying to work on connection with me.

  6. Matt, (or anyone else)
    What I started thinking in my comment above- I don’t think it’s semantics, but I would like to get your thoughts.
    Would you say there is a difference in “putting your children first” and “putting parenting first”?

    The first sounds like we put their whims and what they want first, and the latter sounds a little more respectable, but it is still just one part of the whole.

    And, practically speaking, how would someone prioritize the marriage over the needs of the kids/patenting ?
    Because if there is more than one child , the needs can feel constant.

    I think, for me, it just means that there are certain things set in place that build and nurture the relationship –
    Things like 10 min. Together after coming home where they just check in with each other.
    A few hours set aside every weekend that is just for them.
    For me the prioritizing means those things don’t get put aside because something more urgent comes up, or at least not on a routine basis.

    Everyone may already get that, but I guess I just needed to nail that down.

    1. Rebekah Verbeten

      Putting parenting vs putting the children first is a fantastic way to parse it out! I think that also works to where you are putting the marriage first rather than putting your spouse first. A concept/value system instead of an individual.

      I agree it can be difficult to prioritize the marriage (our oldest is 6 and we just had our 4th girl at the end of Feb!), but the little things are what keep the foundation strong. Or chip away at it, as Matt so honestly explains in his articles.

      1. Well, phoney.
        Was writing a reply and it got lost.
        I will try to re-write it later..

        just to note – I think it’s totally possible to have your marriage be the top priority while you sit in a room with x number of kids while they make fart noises and laugh. It is the fact that the marriage issues were addressed in the first place that both of the spouses could be present in the moment and reap the fruit of their marriage …( I apparently think kids AND fart noises are two of the joys of marriage..:)

        1. Rebekah Verbeten

          Ha Lindsey! I think some of the best marriage moments are meeting eyes over the tops of the heads of your circus and mind-melding over the insanity the two of you have created.

    2. somecallmejack

      Lindsey, finally something that isn’t over my head! =8^) And I totally agree.

    3. Lindsey – I know it’s a month past your post but felt compelled to reply. As a husband who has and still feels second or lower on the “list”, let me give a simple example. And this example involves no intentional or outward venom from my wife…just a general lack of interest in me. Anyway, after I get home from work, my wife and I play with the kids and get dinner ready, clean up and have a little more time with the kids before starting the bedtime routine. I am okay with this time being pretty much all about the kids. BUT, but, but ,but etc., once the kids are in bed and settled (between 8-8:30pm), my wife checks out. She stays up for maybe another 30 minutes and goes to bed alone. Not because I’d be unwilling to go with her of course. She just doesn’t have anything left for me. And while she does do an awful lot, I do my fair share of cleaning and caring for kids and they are both in school during the day. We are not talking about a new mom staying home with small children. She is not mean spirited or overly critical of me…she just doesn’t have me on her list of priorities.

      1. somecallmejack

        I am sighing…I could have written that post, years back. (Our sons are 28 and 26 years old.) For the love of…well, for the love of your wife and your marriage, I urge you to find a way to address and change this situation, with love. If you do not, there is every likelihood that you and your wife will, at some point, wind up separated, either legally, or emotionally and physically even if still legally married. Do not go quietly into that night.

      2. Nate,

        Yeah, that would make anybody feel unimportant. Maybe one way to start would be asking if there’s anything specific you could do to make it easier for you to get some focused time as well. We talk a fair bit about ‘well it was very nice you took care of that for me, but these other things are actually more pressing at the moment.’ My husband has gotten pretty good at recognizing when I’ve got nothing but fumes left in the tank and being okay with just sitting next to me on the couch for a few minutes. Then there are other days where we can actually chat about who knows what or pull out the Scrabble board or whatever.

        My source of exhaustion, like I commented to Lindsey above, is staying at home with four kids 6 and under. Have you been able to discuss where your wife’s exhaustion is coming from? Maybe communicating clearly that it feels like you don’t matter to her. And a hard look in the mirror, too, thinking about whether/how you’ve contributed to the situation (I always HATE that part of a problem…acknowledging my part in it) so you can bring a ‘I screwed this up, I’ll work on it, meet me partway please?’ to the discussion. If you think she’d read any of the articles, show her Matt’s blog 🙂

        1. Hey Rebekah! I didnt read your response until after I posted mine. I totally ditto the direct communication thing. It brings things out in the open AND it shows you are paying attention and care.

          1. Ah, direct communication…simultaneously the simplest (most obvious/clearest route to fixing things) but most difficult aspect of any relationship! And the easiest thing to screw up if both parties aren’t working to stay level-headed and understanding…

      3. Thanks for the answer. I guess my original thought is where is the connection between you guys during the rompus room time with the kids?
        The “Activity” can be the kids, but the connection can still be there.
        Because I get that kids are not a full time thing, they are an ALL THE TIME thing,
        You cant list the priorities chronologically. You cant say “First I will take care of the kids, then I will take care of my spouse…”
        Relationships aren’t a check the box off sort of thing… And it will never happen.

        I dont know any magic answer. But if you were unhappy with how things were going I would ask if you have told her what you want/need directly. Talk about putting the marriage first,(meaning- ask what she thinks about that. Does she see it the same way?)

        If its physical affection that you are really missing, I cant remember who said it but it went something like “foreplay starts right after the last orgasm.”
        What that means is pay attention to her, make a ritual of hugging each other for a solid 6 seconds (I would do more, but that’s just because I really like hugs..)

        There are tons of marriage building tips at “The Marriage Minute” from The Gottman Institute, but I would say that instead of making it an impossible and doomed situation, bringing it up as an issue to be thought about right there creates a connection and a reason to talk.

        If there are other things that prevent her from making you a priority, maybe it would be time to address those, too.
        (Is there hidden resentment?, etc.)

        1. somecallmejack

          Ester Perel, I think? 🙂 I mean this kindly, but it needs to be said: it’s much easier to complain than to ask your mate for what you want. Open your mouth and speak from your heart. Open your ears and listen with your heart. It is so exquisitely easy and so excruciatingly hard…

  7. HI Matt,

    I’m at the point of arguing, “yes…but” and the sticking point is a matter of achieving BALANCE.

    The kind that teaches your children that they are indeed unique individuals whom you love unconditionally….yet that love does not displace or superceed the love you have for your partner under any and all situations. I don’t know if I am making the distinction clear… i do feel that there is a difference between the unconditional love our children deserve and the ongoing commitment we make every day to love our partners …..whether we feel like it or not. Our behavior can be, and often is misunderstood by both children and partners and it may be a challenge of “biblical proportions” to keep our own motivations clear,,,,even to ourselves.

    It seems as though where we put the emphasis, how much energy we have to invest varies from day to day; the challenges we face can chance in the blink of an eye. How are we to respond? How do we make the choices that fulfill the commitments we have made to ourselves and to our families.

    1. Here’s an analogy I kind of like. When you’re a mom on a decompressing airplane,the instinct is to rush forward and put oxygen masks on your kids first. In truth however, that’s not loving. You put on your own mask first, so you will be thinking clearly and not pass out while trying to help them.

      The best way to teach kids what love is, is to love yourself first. The best gift you can give a kid is to love their other parent. Those are the invisible forms of communication kids are looking for that will give them that sense of unconditional love.

  8. Amen, Matt. I’m happily married, but I constantly tried to put the kids first. My husband was wonderful about confronting me, bringing me back to reality. Not good for me, not good for the kids. He and I must always come first.

    Then we went and had a surprise child about ten years later, darling little girl, instant apple of his eye,and he completely forgot everything he knew. Whoosh, all common sense right out the window. She came before us, before our marriage, and she could do no wrong. That’s what sent me on my marriage journey, on my struggles to understand relationships better. Long story short, that kid became a teen ager and Dad began to see where he had gone wrong. I had a struggling marriage,a child from hell, and a lot of resentment towards hubby.

    We’re coming along nicely now, but that’s no joke, keeping your priorities straight,your hierarchy of what’s important in focus, has a huge impact on so many things,including your kids.

  9. Rebekah Verbeten

    I am curious how often women will prioritize children because they feel like their husband isn’t ever going to even put her on his list (in action, anyway). I’m sure there are situations where a good relationship gets ruined once there are children because she completely shifts her focus, but do you think a driving factor is a rickety relationship to begin with?

    Tying in to your ‘don’t have to get married’ article and some of the comment conversations there, she pushes him to engagement/marriage and the relationship doesn’t develop the way she thought it would (for various reasons), so then when there are kids added to the equation she focuses on them because she figures why waste the effort on trying to connect with him anymore. Doesn’t make it right, but you spend a lot of time here looking at factors behind why people deal with things the way they do…does this scenario make sense to you, Matt?

    1. somecallmejack

      I have no idea how to speculate about frequency, but I’d be amazed if you aren’t right in many cases.

      One of the few things I have come to really know is that, in what I would guess is the overwhelming majority of marriages that decay, both persons are responsible for a long series of intricately interwoven behaviors that ultimately lead to a slow death or a traumatic disaster. 🙁

      1. Rebekah Verbeten

        If neither one is prepared to communicate well, I imagine that ‘long series of intricately interwoven behaviors’ is probably pretty easy to fall into. But it is relatively simple (not easy, but uncomplicated) to avoid getting bogged down when good communication habits are practiced.

        Unfortunately, it seems our society doesn’t push young couples to have the awkward conversations and honestly communicate about difficult topics until after vows have been said. And once everyone is miserable it is orders of magnitude more difficult to turn the situation around. Humans don’t do so well at moving past insults to our emotions, especially when dealt by those we care about.

  10. Rebekah Verbeten

    “That’s usually how I know something is true — when it feels uncomfortable and inconvenient.”

    Anyone considering moving past casual dating/conversation, MEMORIZE THIS! For us, if it was uncomfortable and/or inconvenient, it was a necessary conversation. Especially if the discomfort is tied to feeling a little more vulnerable than usual.

      1. Rebekah Verbeten

        Don’t know about smarter. Some of the earlier conversations were a combination of dumb luck crossed with stubborn ‘you can’t bluff me out of this conversation’ if that makes any kind of sense? Now it is a bit more deliberate.

        1. Rebekah,
          Yeah – I think a lot of young women have a hard time having any such conversation because they don’t want to push the guy. We might “scare him off”- I think that is part of having and enforcing boundaries. – Bravo to you for having them!

          1. Rebekah Verbeten

            And here’s where I circle around (again) to us being friends first. ‘Scaring him off’ wasn’t a factor in the early conversations because we were just friends. We are both strong personalities so either we were going to be a great fit or barely be able to tolerate each other. Over time as intellectual debate became emotional discussion we got good at challenging/questioning without insulting/lashing out and we got to be good enough of friends that we acknowledged we were essentially dating already!

            But that pressure to not get too intense too soon probably does prevent a lot of people from placing strong boundaries right away. Then they never get solidly anchored later if the relationship continues.

          2. Rebekah,
            I def. agree friendship is going to be THE thing that helps you look at your partner with compassion and empathy much more than the urgent passionate feelings.
            I value friendship deeply, and when I think of a romantic partner I think of them in the sense of “friend”.
            I don’t know if it has to be platonic friendship that helps the development of a healthy relationship, or if even though those feelings are there, viewing the other always as a “friend first” would be just as helpful to keep the relationship balanced and healthy.

        1. somecallmejack

          Only getting there, haven’t gotten anywhere don’t expect I will…

          For crying out loud, it took me 58 years to realize there was such a thing as an Other. 🙁

          In a way it’s empowering. The people in the wheelchair marathon don’t say “I have an injury, I can’t compete.” They say “I have an injury, but I am going to compete within the best terms of who I am now.”

          I have been binging on Stan Tatkin recently and that is opening up a bunch of windows. 🙂

  11. Author Ayelet Waldman infamously said in a HuffPo Modern Love piece (i think) that she loved her husband more than she loved her kids and got ALL KINDS of fallout and hate mail…but you both make an excellent point. It’s a gift not only to NOT put your kids at the center of your universe, but to model a healthy relationship for them. How many of us can really say we had that as kids? What’s hard, i think, is if both partners don’t put each other first. If one partner values their hobbies/interests above the relationship, It’s hard for the other partner to put them first—and if they do, I’m afraid it creates an imbalance that I’m not sure is healthy for the kids either…Great post. I expect lots of discussion!

  12. I have to agree…and so does my therapist. Even in the dating world.
    He says your partner should be number one…
    The disconnect I had with my Ex was one reason it failed. We were not partners, the kids could easily see that it was me or him, but not us. So yes…kids are important and you should be focused on raising well rounded kids. That also means showing them that the two of you are a united front. For me it was also about showing them what kind of relationship I wanted them to have…and that was another reason to leave. They did not see us hug, or kiss, or hold hands…there was no intimacy between the two of us. Sad…
    Besides…if things go well (and I guess even when they don’t) when the kids are grown and out of the house, who are you left with???

  13. Thanks for this very timely article Matt. Marriage is hard work and it’s easy to feel like number two, three or four on the list, especially when you actually want to be number one all the time! For me the danger comes in when my mind starts telling me I’m not feeling appreciated, it becomes a competition then for first place which is the opposite of what loving should be.

    1. somecallmejack

      One of the most helpful little dicta I’ve run across – actually from several people, but the version I like best is from Charlie Bloom – is: “don’t believe everything you think.”

      That’s gold. 😀

      1. Yes, that’s similar to the one I also like and that is stop listening to yourself so much and start talking to yourself a bit more. The trick with both is to ensure that what you think and say are both truthful and loving. So having discernment then is the most important thing of all. And that’s also a little tricky at times!

  14. “You raise kids who have no idea what a loving, high-functioning, healthy, mutually respectful marriage looks like.”

    This is so much more true than people realise. As someone who was brought up with parents who made us the focus of everything and completely neglected each other, the pressure was overwhelming and the model we had of what parents should be was completely and totally out of whack. Part of it was that my mother has undiagnosed problems that make her hard to live with, and she hasn’t a maternal bone in her body, but the rest of it was just that to avoid their own problems they focused on ours. We were good kids, but you would never have known that based on how we were treated.

    Obviously there was more going on in my case than just an adjustment of attention, but when I met Scrubs’ parents for the first time, I was blown away by the way they truly are two halves of a whole. They have each others’ backs at all times, and each considers the other before everything they do. I asked once how they have such a healthy relationship and they said they put each other first. They love their kids – truly love them and are incredible parents – but they put their relationship first. Everything else flows from that, including healthy relationship modeling for the kids and a happy, stress-free environment.

    … Also probably doesn’t hurt that she’s a psychologist!

  15. Vinaigrette Girl

    People can change if they live long enough, and not always for the better. My sibling and I were secondary to “the marriage”, we knew it and suffered from that exclusivity, and when through age and infirmity mutuality turned to co-dependence, Dad turned his back on Mom for a younger, stronger woman – who robbed him blind after Mom died.

    If you don’t include your kids, if you make “the marriage” into your god, you risk not having your adult kids around when you need them, or not knowing how to let them help if they are there.

    If your wife is prioritising her birth family for a while consider how she was raised. “A son is a son ’til he gets him a wife; a daughter’s a daughter the rest of her life.”

    1. Sounds like hard-earned wisdom. Sad story, but I appreciate you sharing it.

      Writing is hard because it’s impossible to get EVERY thing I think and feel from EVERY angle and with all of the proper context into one post focused on one idea.

      I wish it would go without saying that I am NOT advocating prioritizing one’s spouse TO THE DETRIMENT of children.

      I would never frame this as an either/or situation. FAMILY, to me, means cohesion. Togetherness.

      To be involved with your children and inclusive of your children seems to me a foregone conclusion. I think MOST thoughtful, loving people do this.

      But many thoughtful, loving people will invest in their children at the EXPENSE of their marriage, and then when a couple falls apart, it’s impossible for the family to remain cohesive to the degree it was.

      These are subtle, nuanced ideas, and I apologize if this struck you as me advocating a parenting dynamic that you and your sibling suffered for.

      Love should ALWAYS win.

      It’s EASY to love your kids.

      It’s sometimes HARD to love your spouse.

      Thus, I believe it’s in the best interest of all parties to prioritize effort and energy into one’s marriage.

      I gotta say. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone have children with someone who DIDN’T WANT to include their kids and make their children’s wellbeing a top priority.

      Let the record show that the #2 thing on someone’s priority list can still get world-class love and attention.

      As well they should if they are the son or daughter of parents who love them.

  16. I really dislike this post Matt. Like really viscerally dislike. Because this was my failure in my marriage. I want to list all the reasons I was justified in putting the kids first. I read this yesterday – several times in fact and I’ve spent a day mired in excuses and justifications. But bottom line – this and boundaries is where I failed. I have to own that. And that sucks.

    1. I’m sorry, Tina. But I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you saying that and owning that.

      The Uncomfortable Truths, and all the internal squirming they cause, bring us face-to-face with ourselves, and make us better, stronger people afterward.

      EVERYONE makes mistakes. I can give you a ton of beautiful and noble reasons to prioritize your children, and NOT ONE of them would make you a bad person. Or “wrong.” Or anything.

      You love your kids very much and you wake up in the morning doing the best you can.

      When my son came into the world, my wife and I were in the midst of our second major-ish marriage argument. This one about money and geography. One of us wanted to move for money. The other didn’t.

      I did a piss-poor job of prioritizing my wife in some of those moments.

      It was easy for the two of us to invest in our son because he was so easy to love and feel good about, and it didn’t feel like we were making any mistakes by doing so.

      But that was masking and/or exacerbating our problems. And we died. Slowly and painfully.

      But putting on a hell of a show for our little boy and everyone in our personal lives.

      All that to say, I understand Tina. Entirely. I think it’s fair to say that had things been going better in other parts of your relationship, that maybe this loving-mother component wouldn’t feel like a failure to you.

      I think you can be proud of being a loving mother, independent of what some dipshit wrote on the internet. And I hope you will.

    2. Tina this is EXACTLY how I felt when I read this post. I think I even hid my eyes from line to line.

      1. I feel like a dick for saying this, but this is awesome. As long as it’s understood that there’s no judgment or shaming or criticism or guilt-tripping behind any of these thoughts or words.

        I think the squirmy discomfort is where all the positive change happens.

        1. You are definitely a dick for saying that but it is true. Thanks for the post and for making me contemplate more of my shortcomings;)

      2. It’s easier to handle the grief and pain when a relationship dies if you can make the other person the cause of it all. No matter how I try to look at it fairly and “own my own shit” (as I’ve seen several here say) my tenancy is to slide slowly – or not so slowly – back into the – “it’s all his fault” mentality. I hated reading this and acknowledging the truth of it. But I’m glad Matt wrote it none the less. Because I, at least, need the external reminder of what I already know. Changing is hard and it takes a long time, a long sustained effort to really make a change that sticks. It’s too easy to drift back into the same patterns if you don’t have that unflinching reminder to keep you focused.

        Matt – I hated this post – but I needed it. I’m proud of being a good mother. But I failed my son as well as myself and my husband in not doing my part to sustain the marriage. His failures do not erase mine anymore than mine erase his. It’s just easier for me to read “She feels like your mother and doesn’t want to bang you” I am sure if my ex were ever to read here – he would find this post much easier to read.

        1. Rest assured, I know precisely what you mean, Tina. I am sorry for any painful discomfort. I was in no way celebrating hurt of any kind. I might not have made that clear enough.

          Thank you, Tina.

          1. No worries Matt. I didn’t think you were. And pain is sometimes good for us right? This feels like the kind that is necessary.

  17. Early on in my marriage, I would tell my ex “I don’t need to be first on your list, but I do need to *be* on your list,” even though I really did want to be first. And should have been given that we didn’t have a kid at that point. Later in the marriage I would tell him I felt like I was the housekeeper/nanny/roommate, not his wife. He would apologize and go right back to his Facebook account.

    Did I prioritize our son over him? Yeah, and I own that. It was easier to do as I was rarely prioritized over EVERYTHING else the ex had going on in his life — work, his family of origin, training for his many marathons, Facebook… you get the idea. My son needed me whereas the ex made it clear he didn’t. Still I hoped. Right up to the day he announced he “loved me, but was no longer in love with me.”

    Do I regret focusing my attention on my child rather than my marriage? Sometimes. But when I look back on it with 20/20 hindsight, I’m not sure there was much marriage there to focus on.

    1. I get it.

      I don’t think I can trust everyone to do this, but I hope I can trust MOST people to apply an appropriate real-life marriage context to this conversation.

      I’ve written a few times that I felt like my wife prioritized her family of origin over our marriage.

      What I’ve hinted at a few thousand times, but have never explicitly stated is that my girlfriend/wife NEVER got to feel (because I didn’t understand back then what it took — not because I wanted to harm or neglect her) as if she and our marriage was the highest priority.

      I’m an independent, only-child kind-of guy. And, even at 38 with all of my newfound knowledge and hard-earned wisdom, I STILL act like an independent only-child kind-of guy, which is almost certainly why I’m still single four years later.

      All that to say: I hope people recognize that we all make mistakes, and that all relationship mistakes hurt everyone in or connected to the relationship. Some mistakes are super-obvious and famously harmful (affairs, abuse, addiction, etc.) and other mistakes are so subtle and hidden in our normal day-to-day routines that we are totally blind to the damage they cause.

      I’ve made no secret of the fact that I believe men/boyfriends/husbands are the groups in position to make the biggest impact, because I believe we tend to make the most and biggest mistakes.

      I believe the relationship mistakes men commonly make tend to be more damaging with more frequency than the mistakes women commonly make. (Broad generalities here. Everyone’s individual situation is unique to them, including any gender dynamics at play.)

      And as a general rule, I think if men collectively stopped committing many of the common mistakes and thinking errors we make in our relationships, the vast majority of things men complain about their wives or girlfriends would stop being a problem because these things are almost always REACTIONS to the mistakes the guys are making.

      Which is what Tina described above. And which is what you’ve described here.

      I’m not saying don’t own it. You did. And thank you so much. But ALSO, I want anyone reading to understand that you owning your shit, is not you accepting all of the blame for any problems in your relationship.

      Because your entire world would be different if your husband had you at the top of his priority list each day.

      I suspect that’s the case with most of the moms here who remember pouring their hearts and time into their children, because doing so with their aloof and inattentive husbands was so often painfully unreciprocated.

  18. Ugh. About 10 years ago Oprah had some woman on her show touting the importance of putting her husband first, second her kids. Poor woman was challenged by the audience and almost booed off of the stage. My kids were young back then and I did not get her point. At all.

    Now, a decade later, I see her point because my marriage is unraveling. I’d like to justify that when the kids were infants and toddlers and I was sleep deprived and over-worked that my husband could fend for himself. As you might imagine some big problems arose from that stance. Now, my husband and I function pretty much independently from one another. I think about that Oprah woman a lot.

    The kids are preteens now and have this growing sense of entitlement…we’re working on nipping it in the bud. I think the kids will be OK because we’re emphasizing now that they’re PART of our family and not the WHOLE family. It’s work but as much as I love them they also need to know that they’re not special snowflakes. I do regret that we haven’t really modeled a healthy marriage to them…as much as we try the husband is bitter that I’ve poured so much attention into the kids and I’m bitter that he cares more about his hobbies. (Your list was very accurate for us).

    Our only defense is that no one really modeled a healthy marriage to us on either side of the family. As messed up as our marriage is, we have been doing incrementally better than both sets of our own parents…but still I’m not sure it will be enough. So, right now I’m talking a lot to my kids, modeling natural consequences and reading your blog. Thanks for helping me feel so not alone and a bit more grounded.

    1. Near as I can tell, the ONLY people on planet Earth who have any sense of what a good, healthy, rock-solid marriage looks like are the people who grew up in a home with one.

      But even THEN, there are pitfalls, I imagine. Partners with radically different experiences, or perhaps the inability to know what healthy conflict resolution looks like because there was never much conflict to resolve.

      When nothing bad ever happens, you’re unfortunately totally unprepared to deal with whatever bad does come along one day. That’s one of the major takeaways from my childhood.

      I don’t have ANY answers, and I sure as shit don’t know where to send people for The Great Marriage Blueprint, which I’m certain doesn’t exist, but just getting to the place where we’re paying attention and talking about this stuff is a pretty significant step. I don’t think most people EVER get there.

      It’s like we’re trained to think about EVERYTHING except what is arguably the most-important and significant relationship and living arrangement in our entire lifetime.

      That Oprah story is interesting. What is it about her messaging, I wonder that came off so negatively to the audience? Because this does NOT, and should not, give the impression that people should neglect, ignore or mistreat their kids.

      They should probably treat their kids EXACTLY as they do now. But really step up in the spouse-prioritization department.

      An audience booing someone for advocating strong and healthy relationships on behalf of everyone in the family is not an audience whose praise I’m sure I’d want.

      I’d love to know who the author/speaker was who got booed. I’d like to see if her message delivery was different than what we’re talking about here.

        1. Ha! Someone mentioned her in a blog or Facebook comment about this story yesterday. Said she got all kinds of hate mail over taking this stance.

          I think her problem is using the word “love.” Maybe she used that language on purpose to be controversial and get attention.

          I’d rather be accurate even though I DID use “love” in the headline.

          I think the Love vs. Priority distinction is critical. I share people’s disdain for openly saying you love your spouse more than your children.

          That seems like all kinds of wrong.

          See? This is what I’m talking about (this mini-rant isn’t for you Jenny) when I criticize people — usually people promoting a certain religious faith or political idealogy — for HOW they deliver their messages.

          Is the goal to get attention, or is the goal to change hearts and minds?

          If you want people to convert to Christianity, then maybe screaming at people over abortion and homosexuality would be less effective than ACTUALLY DEMONSTRATING Christian principle in word and action to get one’s point across.

          If you want people to agree with your political opinions, perhaps explaining what we believe and why, in our experience, it is what would be best for everyone, would be more effective than hurling insults at one another, and trying to “win” the arguments that can’t be won.

          This is also, I think, a metaphor for how we discuss disagreements in our relationships. Some people are civil, sure. But most people resort to asshole behaviors of the 10th order, and then act butthurt when their spouse doesn’t immediately concede and respond with loving adoration.

          It’s insane. Just love and respect people enough to explain WHY you believe something without trying to make them out to be assholes for believing something different.

          What we usually discover, is that if you were in their EXACT position, and had their EXACT life experiences, you’d have drawn identical conclusions.


          Sorry. Got off track.

          I LOVE that you took the time to figure out who said this. Thank you so much. I have to do a work thing, but then I’m going to look into that further.

          1. I remember this show! It’s the ONLY Oprah show I remember actually. Everyone was really pissed because the woman told basically everyone that if her kids died she’d be able to move on, if her husband died she wouldn’t survive it. I remember thinking it was absolute garbage in my 20’s.

  19. Great post! Tough line to follow for a single mom by choice who decided to date someone within 2 years of her children being born. I do feel like it is my obligation to put my kids first, especially in the early years, which isn’t fair to a relationship, and now four years in, we’ve struggled as a result. Likely the kids have suffered a bit due to the tension it creates between my SO and me at times. I teeter between “is this fair and should i just stay single” and “we should be able to figure this out – I don’t need to be his priority, why is he insisting that he be mine?” TOUGH! SUCKS! And then including the stuff about kids, as a result of being #1 developing this thing about being uniquely special, causing difficulty around transitioning into adulthood? You nailed this, dude. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    1. somecallmejack

      I need to ask – if you two aren’t going to be each other’s priority, what’s the point of being married or committed in another form of relationship? I mean this gently, but: what’s the point? (:-/

    2. somecallmejack

      That comment should have had a huge “in my opinion”/YMMV sort of disclaimer. I can’t even figure out my own world, and I have NO intention of trying to tell you how to run YOURS! 🙂

  20. somecallmejack

    Here’s an odd viewpoint on this post.

    Some of you have been piecing my story together from various comments, but the micro version is that my wife and I have been married nearly 36 years, have to amazing sons aged 28 and 26. Our domestic life was full of increasing strife until maybe 10 years ago or so when we basically disengaged while living in the same house. About a year and a half ago I woke up from my unquiet slumber and have been trying to figure out how or if it’s possible to revive our relationship. Part of my journey has been realizing how badly dented I am as a result of my childhood, which (and this is relevant to this post of Matt’s) made me terrifyingly aware of how we might have dented our boys.

    Anyway…here’s a funny thing. I would say that right now the most compelling reason, for me, to try to revitalize our marriage is not so much for ourselves but – since we didn’t manage to model a healthy marriage for the boys when they were growing up – for our kids, to model and demonstrate that two adults who really fell from grace with each other can turn and have a very belated resurrection.

    Do you see why that’s sort of an ironic inversion of Matt’s post? It’s a funny version of “staying married for the kids” – ten years after they’ve left home.

    But maybe this comment is actually on topic, because I really, really, really believe that parents – even when their kids our our kids’ ages or older – never don’t have the power to positively or negatively affect how their kids see the world. It would have been better if they had seen a loving marriage when they were young, but seeing it now is still powerful. It would have been a bad thing for their world view to experience us getting divorced 15 years ago, but it would *still* be a bad thing for them to see us get divorced now.

    1. Jack, I think it’s very true that parents still have influence on their kids even after they have grown up and left the house.
      I have been extremely lucky over last 15 years to have been welcomed in the homes of a few families who I really feel “got it right”- (that doesn’t mean without real life struggle and coming out on the other side), but yes – those families have incredible relationships with each other. The grown kids love coming home and hanging out with their ‘rents.
      Not in an insecure over anxious sort of way – but an authentic ” I enjoy their company” sort of way.
      The parents did still influence them, and it was influence they appreciated.
      Like when you choose to be friends with and hang out with awesome people,.. they chose to hang out with their parents.
      That’s pretty cool if you ask me.

      1. somecallmejack

        Thanks, Linds. I will say, to our credit, that both boys remain really comfortable, let’s say at home, 🙂 with us. The 28 year old, who is just finishing his second year of business school, asked if he could skip paying for student housing and live with us for the spring semester, and the 26 year old quit his job about a month ago and is living here while he’s between jobs, and it’s all very good. I actually think it’s amazing, in a really good way, that they feel comfortable doing this. So in spite of my serious, I don’t know what the right word is, “concerns” would be a vast understatement, in spite of all you read from me, I think it’s a major credit to the two of us that they can, and want to, and enjoy, doing this. 🙂 Call it a glass half full.

  21. This blog entry makes me want to sob.

    When we first got married, my husband was told by his dad, “Enjoy her until the kids come. Then you’ll lose her.” That tells you his view. But I’ve watched their marriage. And I’ve listened to them all talk. And turns out, my husband’s dad spent a lot of time in his office with the door shut and he paid no attention to the kids or his wife.

    And my husband is bitter. He has horrible things to say about his dad. His dad wants to make up for it, have a closer relationship now. My husband said to me, “too little, too late,” when we talked about it.

    But here’s the kicker: my husband’s free time revolves around gaming. It started before we had kids. But I didn’t notice it so much because he asked me to game with him. It was t really my thing, but I didn’t despise it, so I joined him. It was a way to spend time together, and common advice is to participate in each other’s hobbies. So I did. Then our first child was born. He didn’t stop gaming. I would ask and ask. Please spend time with us. He wasn’t interested. Anytime he did, it was clear he was itching to get back to his games.

    Fast forward. I gave up asking over the years. He does little with the kids and I. He wants to be the guy who spends lots of money on large vacations, but he doesn’t want to do the day in, day out with us.

    So what did I have? The kids. That’s it. And this past year he said that he is last on my list. That I put the kids first. I really don’t get it. I asked and asked. I tried so hard to show him he was a priority. Now, he says he feels alone. I tried telling him that he can join us anytime he wants. That maybe he should only game a few nights a week. He actually glared at me for that suggestion.

    So I’ve decided that there is no winning here. He thinks I am the bad guy, but he doesn’t want to do what it would take to not feel lonely. Namely, spend time with us wife and kids.

    1. Dear Giveme – I understand you I do – I felt the same, like I was begging for his help and love and attention and getting nothing. So I just kept pouring attention and love into the kids because – well they did give back. Like I said – my neglect of him doesn’t change the fact that he was neglectful of me (or vice versa). I’m not sure there was ever a way to untangle it or stop it – its easier in one way to think there was not – because I can walk away from it as hopeless. It is much harder to just sit with the fact that there probably were points at which either or both of us could have made a difference and we just didn’t.

      I just know I don’t want to become the person that only sees his faults and not my own. I don’t think that is good for me or for the kids. If I’m being brutally honest – I just do not care what is good for my ex any more. I get that I “should” because its better for the kids if I can, and for me if I can care at least at a basic “as I care for other humans” level but I don’t. Again – a flaw in me. One I’m working on because I don’t want to be a bitter blaming sort of person. The habit of blaming him and his faults is long standing by this point – its hard hard work to change it.

      1. My mistake thus far has been being too patient. I gave up asking for more from him, but I didn’t stop giving to him. I was afraid to make him angry by keeping on asking (and it did if I pushed “too much”), and I felt like if there was a fight, it was my fault. Being a “nice” person definitely isn’t always healthy. I saw a video of us that my mom took a few years ago, and a lightbulb went on. I felt like a fool watching the video. It’s clear that I’m trying to get his attention, and he’s not reciprocating even smiles. Finally after 15 years of being mostly ignored, I’m starting to draw boundaries, because no man should be able to neglect his family while his wife smiles a strained smile and just keeps on doing everything that makes him happy. That’s not marriage… that’s… well, I don’t know what label to put on it, but it’s very wrong

    2. somecallmejack

      🙁 Looking back at our trajectory, I think it’s a complex and long-time series of interactions between the spouses. Well, lets be honest – a long series of mutual mistakes, speaking at least for us rather than you two. I wish I had known then what I know now.

  22. Matt and everyone posting…… I am in awe of the amazing diverse thoughtful and heartfelt posts I’ve read over the past few years. This is of a particular ” hit home” sort as this subject was one of the major issues that nearly ended our marriage 25 years ago. I was a complete asshole, no doubt about it, my intentions were stellar in my mind, but my method sucked. I wanted success for myself and my fledgling family so badly that I lost track of the ” whos ” in this magilla. I was struggling to work a low pay job that only partially covered our needs, we just bought a house with the help of my family and money was tight. My family had a business that I grew up in and worked at as a second income nights ,weekends,and holidays. My parents ( although I love them dearly) attempted to manipulate every aspect of my life through holding a sword over my head financially. This included guilting me into working on days that I should have spent with my wife and kids. The mere mention that I was taking my family to a water park or to see Santa Claus or to the playground was met by a call saying ” hey we’re really short handed and need you to come in” from my family . The look of disappointment on my wife’s face was not enough to keep me from falling for the ” choose us over them ” routine . What made me the insufferable asshole in this is that I failed to stand up for the ” them” ..,the ” them” that I helped create…the ” them” I swore to love honor and protect ,with my life if necessary, for as long as we all live, the “them” that I hoped would always be there, and as dramatic as this might sound, the ” them” who would be the the last people I would see before I closed my eyes for the last time. I had been given many gifts in my life , some times the greatest gifts come in the form of a kick in the ass….she gave it to me when she said she was done. I looked at myself and what I truly wanted in my life and who really mattered in the big picture. It was ” THEM” As much as my family of origin means to me my wife ,my kids, my honor,dignity , and will to fight for them is stronger. The bond that is strongest is with Anne. Through the years we have been through some turmoil, my family has caused problems and her family has caused problems. We aren’t on good terms with some of them, some we do, but either way they don’t have the pivotal roles they once held. Our kids are our greatest accomplishment next our marriage, we know what position they each play…they’re older in seemingly good relationships and have us to reference. Some of the daily drama still finds its way into our lives But in the end the center line is us and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My wife has defended me cares for me and honored me for all of our 33 + years together…..I can’t say the same for me,nor will I beat myself up for it…but I know what team we pitch for and right now we lead the league. Blessings to you all….keep fighting for your marriage and loving your spouse.

    1. You’re the best, Louie. I’m so glad you found this place and are willing to share your stories here. Thank you.

  23. what a wonderful article and one I wish I had found a few years ago when there may have been a chance to save my marriage. Sadly its through our mistakes we learn these lessons. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t told of this before I got married. I come from a very traditional pakistani family where family is centre of the universe and your spouse the centre of that! I suppose had I not have made those mistakes I may not have understood the value of your words today.

  24. Jocelyn Klarer

    Just as fyi: two people listing “god and/or faith” first on a list filing for divorce is as prevalent as two people NOT listing “god and/or faith” on ANY list for filing divorce. Yes, if one person values religion more so than the other you very well may see the dissolution of a marriage or relationship in general, but if two people are both atheists in a relationship and it ends up dissolving you are also going to see that “god” isn’t placed anywhere on either parties list of values. 🙂

    1. I’d like to believe philosophical alignment is a given when discussing marriage.

      I can’t fathom how people think there won’t be problems trying to overcome polar-opposite belief systems in marriage, ESPECIALLY if they’re trying to raise children together and instill whatever values matter to them.

      I have little doubt that two closely aligned people can make it work, no matter what their beliefs.

  25. Thank you, Matt.. You are right about the secret of a long-lasting marriage. Take it from someone who has been married for 61 years, whose parents were married for 60 years and who couldn’t be happier. Bless all those who have been baring their souls here.

  26. Matt, I haven’t sat down to read in so long, but I have to tell you, this post is my favorite you’ve ever written. I’ve been questioning everything I believe to be true about marriage these last few months. I honestly can’t come up with a single marriage lasting longer than twenty years that I would want for myself. It seems to me that either I’ve never seen a good one, or my expectations are way too high. I’m still not sure.

    I feel like the end goal in marriage always seems to be complacency. Am I wrong? I know a couple can’t sustain a spark for their entire lives—or can they? Have I just seen a lot of bad marriages? Everyone around me tells me marriage is just like that. That you end up going your separate ways and focusing on other things (like the kids) and that it becomes more of a friendship than a relationship. But that you’ll be glad you have someone around when you’re old.

    Half the couples I know who have been married less than 15 years barely have sex anymore! I’m like…are you kidding me?!? I would die! I love sex! (TMI)

    I want a life partner and I want him to be someone I spend time with who wants to spend time with me. And I’m tired of feeling stupid for that. Honestly, that’s how I’ve felt lately, just stupid. Like I keep trying to make it work because I have to (and genuinely want to) but if I want anything more than to just exist, it’s wrong and I’m stupid.

    Does that make sense? Do I need to lower my expectations? I’d love to hear from some of the men commenters. A lot of women to me just seem to have accepted that this is the way it is. I’m over it.

    1. I am not a man, but I needed to chime in and say amen to all you just said.
      I too am over it. So the plan for me is, take care of myself, take care of my kids, find joy in about a million other areas. If human connection comes along, awesome.

    2. My husband and I are coming up on 9 years married this summer. Complacency has never been a part of our relationship, but we were really good friends before we started a romantic relationship. We learned how to communicate, argue, disagree, and listen before we added the messy emotional stuff. Being able to step into a friends mindset has helped a lot over the years. But friends is the foundation, not the entire relationship.

      And no, the sparks don’t constantly fly. Personally, I don’t think that is a realistic expectation…everything has cycles. Sometimes it is more like a fire banked for the night…but the heat is still there. Takes a little tending to get a flame back, but not too much if small efforts are frequent. The drifting apart would come from not putting the relationship on a MUTUAL priority list. Does that make sense?

      Wanting a partner to respect your statement that something hurts you is not too high of expectations at all! I was lucky to grow up in a house with a fantastic example of marriage (they’ll be 35 years this year). So marriages like that do exist, they just aren’t all that common it seems.

    3. “I want a life partner and I want him to be someone I spend time with who wants to spend time with me. And I’m tired of feeling stupid for that. Honestly, that’s how I’ve felt lately, just stupid. Like I keep trying to make it work because I have to (and genuinely want to) but if I want anything more than to just exist, it’s wrong and I’m stupid. ”

      I am a man, and I feel the same way.

  27. I love a lot about this post.

    With my ex, your “reverse list” is 100% true. (Except he didn’t have a job…but….)

    I very distinctly remember a conversation where I, yet again, went to the back burner while he did something for his mom. I asked him very directly when I could be his priority. He said, “Well, she won’t be around forever, so….” “So I need to wait for her to DIE in order for me to be your priority?” That was probably 15 years ago….he still hasn’t answered, and she’s still alive. (And, obviously, I left, so….) And then there was my 2nd Mother’s Day….(

    Anyway, this didn’t work out because I wasn’t ANYONE’s priority. To this day I’m hypersensitive to that…but having matured (somewhat, haha) I have found words to say “I’m not feeling like I’m important here, can you help me by (insert specific action)?” And that works most of it out.

    With the 2nd marriage, I think you need to put the kids AND the spouse first. And that’s hella hard, because guilt and stuff. But then, more 2nd marriages don’t work out, and maybe this is why. Or part of why.

    Great stuff, as always, Matt.

  28. The children come first. Don’t waste effort trying to be pleasing for your wife. She has no capacity or ability to appreciate it. And she won’t. (you wrote about it with your shitty husband series)

  29. I have not read all the comments, but I am guilty of saying to my husband….You might not always be my husband, but she will always be my daughter, nothing changes that, not even death. In a “good” marriage their is co-parenting. When there is co-parenting, one parent is not left to do all the work, while the other is good time Charlie parent. In a good marriage where there is co-parenting, one parent is not jealous of the time on parent is spending in child care, and the child caring parent does not become resentful of the parent that is a slacker.

    I am a child of divorce…..then remarriage….and divorce…and then remarriage, and then divorce again on both sides. Neither parent ever put me or my sisters first. I made it clear to my husband before our marriage and before we had children that the needs, emotional, physical, and material, would come first, always. He agreed.

  30. Pingback: Adding Spice to Your Love Life Through Routine and Predictability | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  31. My husband puts his brother as #1 in his life and me possibly as #2. I’ve put up with this for 26 years and I don’t think I can do it for another 10 to 20 years. His brother is evil, greedy, controlling and manipulative. My husband will do anything for his brother to get the little pat on the head. I can’t talk about with him because he won’t hear a single bad word said against him. It is worst than him having an affair with another because at least in that situation there’s a good chance that the affair would. Unfortunately a brother relationship doesn’t change or go away. He told me a year ago that he wouldn’t change his relationship and would rather get me out of his life instead. I have to stay because I’ve prayed very hard about it and God has told me to stay. What do I do? I’m happy to talk to a counsellor but there is no way he will. He lies to and deceives me all the time. I’m so depressed and anxious.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.
%d bloggers like this: