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 publicly 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):
- Marital Family
- Family of Origin
- Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity
But here’s how I think many married guys actually prioritize their Life Things, according to their actions:
- Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity
- Family of Origin
- 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.
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 their 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 years putting our spouse first, we won’t have to look very hard to find either.