5 Ways to Give Your Marriage the Attention it Deserves
- Sara Horn
- 2016 13 Jan
My husband Cliff and I were practically babies when we got married. He was 22, I was 21, and if you didn’t count living in the dorms for college, neither of us had really lived away from home before.
Married life didn’t exactly have the start we imagined, though – our first night as husband and wife, we both had to call home when we realized we’d forgotten things we needed. Cliff needed his birth certificate for the honeymoon cruise we were flying out for the next day, and I needed my glasses.
Before the sun was up, both our mothers and our fathers were all happily greeting us at the airport with the requested items in hand, glad for the chance to see us one more time (and probably more than a little pleased that those invisible strings to their children hadn’t yet been cut).
Who Comes First?
Family relationships can be complicated after you get married. If you’re close to your family, it can be hard not seeing them as often as you did before you walked down the aisle. Your mom may complain she doesn’t hear from you as often. Your siblings may not understand why you can’t hang out like you did when you were single, especially if they’re still single. If your spouse isn’t as close to his family as you are to yours, disagreements over where and how you spend your time can happen quickly. Holidays can become a headache and a time of dread instead of a season of joy.
One of the best things we did for ourselves and for our relationship was right after our first year of marriage, when we moved almost nine hours away to finish school. Doing that forced us to depend and stay focused on each other. We also avoided the temptation of turning to other family members when life together got hard.
We’ve realized something, though. Since moving back a few years ago to the same city where we partially grew up and got married, the same city where most of our extended family live no more than five to ten minutes from us, it’s still important we set basic boundaries – even as a more “seasoned” married couple of 16 years. Every couple needs a united understanding of how to relate to your loved ones, while keeping your own family your main priority.
God’s Design for Marriage
In Genesis, we read of God’s timeless design for marriage: “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, HCSB).
Marriage isn’t just about sex, but about intimacy – emotional, physical and spiritual. This is a commitment which is supposed to take priority over every other relationship, second only to our relationships with God. In Ephesians 5, we see the picture painted in even greater detail, with wives asked to respect their husbands, and husbands instructed to love their wives with the same love Christ showed for his church.
So how do you handle it when one spouse’s parent is less than understanding after you announce you’re not coming home for Christmas this year, or worse –you’re going to the in-laws? What do you say when your husband’s brother comes over at all hours – and never takes the hint to leave? What do you do when your wife’s mother constantly wants to do things with her and you’re wondering if you’ll ever get to spend your own quality time together? Is it really a big deal if you talk more to your family on the phone than your spouse who you live with?
5 Ways to Put Your Marriage First
1. Treat your spouse as your most important team member – on a team for two. Make it a habit to discuss what he wants to do before agreeing to that weeknight dinner at your sister’s, or a family vacation with your parents. Let your family know that you’ll see if both of your schedules work. But don’t blame your spouse if you decide you can’t go or you don’t want to do what they’ve asked you to do. If you make a decision together, defend the decision together.
2. Plan space in your schedule and treat it as sacred. There’s nothing wrong with spending time with family. Many don’t get that option these days, when jobs frequently move people away from their hometowns. It can be a blessing when you live near family and can spend time together and support each other when needed. If you find that you’re over at your parents home more than you are your own, though, it’s time to re-examine priorities. Sit down with your spouse and a calendar and decide what nights and weeks are reserved just for the two of you and your children if you have them. Then treat those times as sacred for just each other.
3. Avoid venting about your spouse to family. This is where most of us get in trouble – your husband says something to hurt your feelings and you storm off to your room, phone in hand, already dialing your mother. Your wife nags you about the yard one too many times, and the next time you talk to your siblings, you make sure they know how frustrated you are, and what your wife does that you don’t like. When we are more willing to talk about our spouses to our families instead of talking to our spouses and working out those conflicts, we open dangerous doors for division and resentment - two things we do not want in our marriages.
4. Don’t feel guilty for wanting time with your spouse. One wife who comes from a big family of daughters finds it hard to say no to her mom when she wants all of her girls together, which is often. “If I tell her I want to spend some time with my husband, she’ll tell me that I see him every day. I’ll say ‘he’s my husband;’ and she’ll say, ‘but I’m your mom.’” It’s hard when a parent seems more needy than you might expect. But remember your marriage is supposed to be the most important relationship in your life, second only to your relationship with God. Make time for that parent, but make sure the time you spend with your spouse comes first.
5. Decide with your spouse when it’s ok to go solo. Sometimes schedules make it almost impossible to fit in family time and extended family time. Church, work and kids activities all can take big chunks, which makes it hard to find any time for each other – or for those family dinners your mother wants to have once a month. Sometimes it’s not schedules, but personalities – your husband doesn’t get along with your mother and it’s more of a stress than a rest when you have to get everyone together. Discuss with your spouse when it makes sense for you to go see your family, or for him to go see his without going together. But take care that this approach is always the exception instead of the rule; if you find yourselves apart more than you’re together, it’s time to come back to this list and look at #1.
Sara Horn is blessed to be a wife to Cliff for 16 years and mom to their son for 13. She is the author of six books, founder of Wives of Faith, a ministry for military wives, and a Crosswalk Marriage Channel contributor. Her latest book, How Can I Possibly Forgive? released this month. Visit her online at sarahorn.com.
Publication date: October 15, 2014