Who Gets More of Your Attention—Your Children or Your Spouse?

I’ve often heard the advice, “The best gift you can give your children is a strong marriage.” While I strongly agree, I don’t often live it out as I should. In fact, I think we often unconsciously reverse the statement and feel that we are giving our spouse the greatest gift by loving their children. This is the hard part, because I think it’s true that loving one’s children is also a gift to our spouses. There’s nothing wrong in loving our children—except when we have nothing left for our spouses. I’ve heard too many marriages fail because the mother refocused all of her attention and energies from the husband she adored to the children to whom she now devotes every waking moment.

It is so easy to get caught up with everything kids need and want that you have little or nothing left at the end of the day for your spouse. (This can be true of childless or empty nesting couples who fill their lives with positive pursuits of work, volunteerism or time with friends.) On an average day, most of us have our jobs, laundry, cooking, shopping, bill paying, and cleaning. If you have school-aged kids like me, you are also shuttling them to and from school and various activities. With the few minutes you have in between these, you will frequently hear requests from the children for more of your time and attention. Mine often ask to read together, sit together, cook together, build something together or play pretend together. Then, of course, there’s the morning routine, the bedtime routine, the mealtime routine. At the end of the day there are lunches to make and laundry to finish.

Meanwhile, your spouse is probably not asking you for your time and attention. Either he is working or trying to help out with the various household activities and is also busy, or he has learned that asking for your attention when you are focused on the kids is a losing proposition, particularly when the children are very young. Perhaps this is why for parents who do not regularly nurture their relationship, there can be a large dip in marital satisfaction after kids arrive.

Don’t get me wrong, I think children are a great blessing—but I also think they will take all the time you give them and still ask for more. Yet, they can still thrive on maybe 90 percent of the energy you give them, allowing you to carve out some time and energy to replenish your own needs and to feed your marriage. We must better manage our time and energy so there is something left for the person we married. This is something I have to regularly remind myself to do.

Todd Sellick wrote a great post at the blog Simple Marriage recently about giving 1 percent  of your week to your spouse. Just 1 percent! (That’s about an hour and a half of together time.) Yet that one percent can make a huge difference. During that 1 percent, you are not using your  smart phone or computer. You are not watching television. You are not talking about work or the kids. You are focused on each other—having a cup of tea, taking a walk or cuddling on the couch. Read about true connectivity. That connection time will help your relationship flourish and will help fill your own love tank. You may even have more to give those around you.

Start thinking about ways you might provide a bit more attention and love toward your spouse this week. Next post, I’ll share some quick and easy ways to do just that.

How much time do you think you spend truly connecting with your spouse in a week? How much time do you spend on childcare activities? What ideas do you have for regularly feeding your marriage’s love tank?

8 responses to “Who Gets More of Your Attention—Your Children or Your Spouse?

  1. This is so true! As a mother it is really hard to not focus so much attention on our kids when we feel like they could take everything we have to give. I think one thing that is easy to do is talk to your spouse about their day in front of your kids when you see each other when you/he/she gets home from work. It does a few things 1) It shows your kids that you communicate with each other and models it for them 2) It shows them that you care about one another 3) It teaches your children that there are sometimes when they should be quiet so you can speak with another adult uninterrupted. 4) Finally, it sets the stage that your children can talk to you about their days when they get older.

    • Great points, Julie. My husband makes sure to greet/kiss me first before he gives the kids hugs and kisses. That lets them see the priority we have for one another. And regarding talking about your days together, I’ve seen my son start to model that and say, hey mom/dad, what did you do today? It creates a nice time of connection when he shows interest.

  2. Great post, Lori! One of the best “role model” couples out for me and my wife always reminded us, “your spouse was here first.” So true. It breaks my heart to see couples go through life and kids together, and when the kids are out of the house, they don’t know what to do with each other. Its hard work but my wife and I try to give as much attention to our kids as possible while giving each other the needed affection and attention. One of the best parts about it is when our oldest daughter sees us sitting on the couch together, or giving each other a momentary hug in the kitchen, she quickly comes to us and asks “what you talking about?” or asks for a “family hug”. I think kids love to see their parents interacting with and loving each other. I agree with you, Julie. What a great way to model marriage to our kids than to act it, instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist and giving the kids everything you have to the detriment of your relationship with your spouse. After all, “your spouse was here first.”

    • Thanks for your insights, Filipe. I agree, I think it gives kids comfort to see their parents interacting in such a close way. It also models positive relationship interactions for their future. Peace,

  3. Great post Lori!! I do think when we are raising children, especially young children, it’s easy to lose site of putting effort toward nurturing our spouse. But the more intentional we are about taking care of our marriage, ultimately the more our children feel safe and secure. Unfortunately, some people put so much attention into their children that when those little tykes grow up and move away, the spouses are staring at each other and saying, “Hmmm…I don’t really know you anymore.” Anyway, I wrote a post called “Are You Making Cupcakes Instead of Making Love” that touches upon the dynamic you write about. Thanks for your post! http://intimacyinmarriage.com/2010/03/02/are-you-making-cupcakes-instead-of-making-love/

  4. Lori,

    I read that the largest one year divorce rate was the year following the last child leaving home. Too much time with the kids and not enough with each other makes that more likely.

    And if anyone thinks it’s not as big a deal after the kids leave home, ask any kid who has to work out holidays with parents who won’t be in the same room!


    • Yes, Paul, I’ve read that divorce rates go up at that time, which is sad, because that is when couples can regain their independence and intimacy again. Keep the love alive, so there’s something left when the kids leave. As a child of divorce myself, I can attest to the fact that the hassles never end, the family divisions, the wishing you could be in two places at once–it just doesn’t go away.

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