What’s More Important In A Marriage?
Can you settle an argument for my partner and I? What should take top priority (what’s more important in a marriage) – our family relationship (with our kids included) or our adult partnership together?
Signed: What’s More Important In A Marriage?
Dear What’s More Important In A Marriage,
I am glad you see that the relationship that you and your partner have together and the relationship you both have with your family are two distinct types of connections. Both types of relationships must be fed and nurtured. One is not more important than the other. If one suffers, it has a direct negative impact on the other. And many people don’t realize this.
The balance you are looking for is a tricky one. In an effort to be good parents, we often prioritize our children’s needs over our own. Being a good parent is exhausting. There is only so much time and energy in our day. So other things end up dropping low on the priority list, as a result. And quite often, the one thing that gets forgotten the most is the adult connection that exists between both partners.
But what we need to remember is that our partner relationship strongly influences the parent dynamic that we have within our family overall. We role model respect, trust, intimacy, communication, affection, and support first and foremost through the connection we have with our partner. This dynamic is the foundation upon which our children learn how to treat us as parents – and how they treat their friends and eventual significant others. And, perhaps mostly importantly, it is the building block from which our children learn how they themselves should be treated by others.
(It should be noted: even if we are no longer living in the same home as the other parent, the way we engage with them still has a massive influence on these lessons that our children learn.)
So, how can we use our partner relationship to enhance our family dynamic, so we raise emotionally healthy children? Here are a few suggestions:
Build friendship together. Make time to have fun, share interests, and do things together, just as partners. This helps your children see the importance of and learn how to develop healthy friendships in their own life. It teaches them to not take the people they care about for granted.
Express affection and fondness for one another openly (to whatever degree you are comfortable). It doesn’t matter if you verbalize the positive feelings you have for your partner, or if you prefer to demonstrate your caring for one another through gestures. By expressing your love for one another, you are teaching your children how to connect to and show their feelings for people in their lives.
Practice healthy communication skills with your partner. Learn how to listen – how to validate – how to express disappointment – how to argue in appropriate ways – and how to express your needs and wants. Your children will require these skills in every aspect of their lives, and if they don’t learn them on a daily basis within the family, in both positive and challenging situations, they will shy away from using these skills as they get older.
Learn how to fight fairly. Trying to hide the disagreements you and your partner have together is NOT protecting your children. Kids need to learn that it is okay to have differences of opinion. And they need to know how to manage moments of conflict effectively, so they feel confident about having their voice and advocating for themselves, while also being considerate and respectful of another person’s perspective. Being heard while finding a win/win solution is much harder than it seems. It doesn’t happen by accident – it must be taught.
Develop rituals with your partner that create a culture within the relationship that is reflective of the values you hold dearest. Highlight the things that matter the most in some special way. This will trickle down into your family connection as well. The traditions you build in your partnership and in your family become the glue that bonds you together, whenever there is physical distance, emotional strife, life stress, or personal challenges. They create a sense of belonging that is so necessary for everyone in the family to feel.
And lastly, remember to make time to care for your individual needs; and then for each other’s needs as partners. By taking care of your own (and each other’s) physical, emotional, and mental wellness, you are showing your children that it is okay for them to focus on their own balance too. Personal wellbeing directly impacts the level of healthiness that exists in our partner relationship. And that level of wellness ripples into the overall strength of the family unit as a whole.
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