But . . . who comes first?

Out of the blue a friend asked me - on New Years Eve, of all times - is your relationship with your kids more important than your relationship with your spouse?

I immediately answered “YES!” Then a second later, I said, “NO!” Then I said “Maybe?” 

Who should you put first?

One of my favourite country artists, Keith Urban, irked lots of folks when he declared that he loved his wife more than his kids. 

"We're very, very tight as a family unit, and the children are our life, but I know the order of my love. It's my wife and then my daughters. I just think it's really important for the kids. There are too many parents who start to lose the plot a little and start to give all their love to the kids, and then the partner starts to go without. And then everybody loses. As a kid, all I needed to know was that my parents were solid. Kids shouldn't feel like they are being favoured. It's a dangerous place."

Incredibly bold eh? But I couldn’t agree more. This country twanger is a prophet.

Regular readers of my blog know that I always harp on strengthening your relationship with your children, that relationship is paramount. But I must clarify – you can never put the needs of your children before the needs of your partner.  

I don’t want to confuse needs with love. The love you have for your children is different than the love for your spouse. The two cannot be compared. The love you have for your children is based in nurturing, teaching, guiding, protecting, and caring, whereas the relationship with your partner is much more intimate and affirming – you are each other’s confidante, companion, friend, emotional support, and equal.

But which relationship is your top priority?

Everyone benefits from your strong relationship with your spouse. It forms the stability, predictability, and security in the house and is the springboard for self-esteem in your children.   

You are both role models - demonstrating what a loving relationship looks like. You are showing your children what they should expect in their future relationships, programming what they will look for and expect from a partner.   

In my failed marriage, we both poured everything we had into our children.  They became our life. I think we honestly believed we were doing the right thing, devoting all our time and energy to the kids.     

But at what cost? For us, there was no time, energy, or heart left for each other. While not the ultimate downfall of our marriage, our child-centred philosophy was definitely a contributing factor. Then, as a single dad, my children were also my sole focus – this self-sacrifice was not the healthiest choice for anyone.  

Now I am in a committed, loving relationship, and I am much more aware and vigilant of the big picture. Being child-centred is great, but the most child-centred thing you can do is have a great marriage/relationship. You cannot love your children at the expense of your partner.  

What I am saying is, you need to fight for the ‘us’ – make your partner love relationship your top priority. If that relationship is solid, then children will thrive. If Dad (or Mum) feels sidelined, and he has gone from the top of the totem pole to the absolute bottom (just below the dog), then resentment, contempt, and trouble will creep into the house.  

When everything revolves around the children and their schedules, without careful and purposeful ‘couple time’, you will lose each other.  

Use family, friends, and babysitters to carve out time in your busy lives to nourish your adult relationship. You have to constantly sharpen the saw and relive what made you both fall in love in the first place. Never forget the passion and excitement of the initial courtship and all the romantic gestures.  

Not convinced yet? Let’s fast-forward 20 years - what will happen when the children leave the nest? If you have neglected your relationship, it might be like a garden, there may not be much left to work with. Will you and your partner even be friends? Will one of you be moving out with the kids when they leave?

As a society, we have become so child-centred that this ‘putting your spouse first’ notion is a controversial issue, but if you keep your adult relationship as your top priority, your entire family will benefit.

Agree with me?  Disagree?  Let’s start the conversation.

Until next time!


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About the Author

Jeff Hay is a Kelowna-based writer, motivational speaker, parenting coach, and father of four.

Along with writing for Castanet, Jeff also writes for the Huffington Post, the Good Men Project, and the National Fatherhood Initiative in the United States. 

When he is not playing his favourite role of 'DAD', Jeff speaks throughout Canada as a popular parenting educator, working on his website – www.thedadvibe.com, and writing his parenting book for dads, “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home!

Jeff dedicates his life to improving the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, and committed fathers.

E-mail Jeff your thoughts or questions anytime at [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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