Kari and Brian look exhausted as they sit in my office with six-month-old Taylor playing between them. They have been married six years and have two children, the oldest of which is in preschool.

Brian shares openly about how the children have taken over their marriage. "We haven’t had a date in more than a year. How are we supposed to stay connected if we never have any time together as a couple? Look, we can’t even come to counselling without one of the kids with us."

Kari quickly responds, "I know Brian and I haven’t been able to spend much time together since we started having kids, but he just sounds selfish to me. We will have plenty of time for us after the kids are grown and gone. But right now the kids need us, and we need to make sure they are our number one priority. We will be fine . . . won’t we?"

Kari and Brian are just one of a multitude of couples struggling with this question. And the answer is becoming a more and more resounding no.

When couples begin to have children, they automatically increase the challenge of keeping their marriage strong. All couples, regardless of their life stage, can find themselves quickly consumed by countless activities and responsibilities. But those couples who are raising children are at the greatest risk of neglecting their marriage.

Child-centred homes

The parenting role can be overwhelming. And if you listen to what society says, you will likely believe you aren’t being good parents unless your home is "child-centred."

In a child-centred family, Mom and Dad are absorbed in meeting their kids’ needs and exposing them to every possible experience and opportunity. Couples who spend their parenting years being entirely child-focused may soon realize their marriage is in major trouble.

Statistics from the past two decades show that divorce rates are on the rise for couples who have been married 30 or more years. We tend to think that by the time a couple has made it that far, they should have it all figured out. But if couples spend their entire married life making their children the centre of their world, the result may be two people who have no connection once the children are grown and gone.

Making time for your marriage

Developing balanced family relationships is the best way to ensure both your children and your marriage are healthy, growing and secure. As soon as your first baby arrives, you realize that keeping your marriage a top priority is difficult. But with just a little effort, it can be done. Although your infant requires much of your time and attention, he doesn’t need to require all of it.

It’s up to you to make sure your spouse is not neglected through this time. You can help your spouse know he or she is still important by doing little things, such as using nap time to snuggle together instead of catching up on chores; grabbing the stroller and taking a walk together, using the time to talk openly; or hiring a babysitter and going out on a date.

Determining to keep the health of your marriage a priority is the key to feeling as though you really are more than just a mom and dad – or maid, chauffeur and short-order cook.

The biggest challenge is managing your time. Healthy couples don’t find time, they make time together. To do this, you must put your couple-time into your busy schedules first – and write it down.

The best thing for your kids

Your children’s schedules should take a back seat to what you and your spouse need from each other. This doesn’t mean you won’t be taking good care of your kids. In fact, if you really want to do what’s best for your kids, you will take care of your marriage first.

One of the essentials your children need is a loving and secure home. That need can be met only by making sure the relationship between you and your spouse is strong.

You cannot expect to put your spouse on hold for the next 18 years, then just pick up where you left off. You and your spouse must learn how to remain partners while you are also parents.

Love your children and meet their needs. But remember that one of their most important needs is to have parents who really love and care for each other.

Debbie L. Cherry was a licensed clinical psychologist, author and speaker specializing in marriage and family issues at the time of publication.

© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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