As a married couple, no one is as important as your spouse. But in America, once children come on the scene, spouses are quickly replaced in the priority line by children. We press pause on our soul mate, and bump them down the priority list for the next 18 years. It’s of little surprise that empty nesters have one of the biggest divorce rates in our country.
It’s a big phenomenon in America–child centered marriages. This means we consider children and their needs as more important, and more attended to, to those of the adults in the marriage. At first glance, that seems pretty obvious…of course needs of children come before those of adults! But we’re not talking about basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and love. We’re referring to adults spending every waking minute talking with, attending to, or thinking of their children. But if a little bit of attention is good for children, a lot should be even better, right?
Currently, millions of marriages in America are becoming child-centered. Some experts even suggest that many parents seem to be married to their children, instead of their spouses. It can be surprising to discover that the impact of a child-centered marriage is negative for both the children, and the adults involved. Researchers have found that children can enhance a marriage, but only if couples do not allow their children to become the center of the marriage. If the marriage becomes child-centered, the couple is at a greater likelihood for divorce. In fact, one of the biggest times for divorce is at empty nest (once the children are gone). Empty nesters divorce because once the kids are gone, they realize they’ve lost the only thing that has kept them connected over the years. Everyone, including the children, is better off if the marriage is considered to be “couple-centered” rather than “child-centered.”
Think you may have a child-centered marriage? Check out the following list to see if any of these behaviors apply to your marriage.
You might have a child-centered marriage if…
- You won’t go on a date night because your kids may miss you too much.
- You often respond to your child’s requests for things before (and instead of) your partner’s needs.
- You spend more free time with your children than your spouse.
- All vacations and time away include the children.
- Your child is privy to or part of important, adult conversations including topics such as finances, in-laws, and extended family issues.
- Nearly all leisure time and activities include the children.
- Children often sleep in the bed with you.
- You can’t seem to close or lock your bedroom door at night, for fear of making the children feel rejected.
Here are five strategies to create a more couple-centered marriage:
1. Create boundaries with your spouse. Close and lock the door when you need uninterrupted time for just the two of you (assuming your children are either in bed, or are old enough to care for themselves). Agree to share important information only with one another, and don’t involve the kids in adult conversations.
2. Create code words that only you and your mate understand. The code words could indicate that you need time alone, need to talk in private, or would like to make love that night.
3. Create small departure and reunion rituals. These rituals are just for the two of you, such as a morning kiss before you leave for work and once you return, or a 10-minute decompression conversation after dinner to chat about your day. Researchers have discovered that the healthiest, happiest couples do this. Check out our article about this, Five Hours to a Better Marriage.
4. Set aside times and activities that are for you and your partner exclusively. Go on regularly scheduled date nights. Plan a weekend getaway. Go on a vacation just for the two of you.
5. Regularly show affection to each other, in front of your children. Children need to see healthy affection (as well as healthy conflict) from their parents. It shows them what a good relationship looks like. It also helps them create healthy expectations about their own future relationships.
Just a quick note, if you’ve had a child-centered marriage and you are working to move over to more of a couple-centered marriage, expect that the transition won’t be easy at first. It will be important to explain to your children that you still love them the same, but that you and your mate need special time together. Share with them what to expect and what will be changing (i.e., them sleeping in their own bed). The more you can help your children prepare for these changes, the smoother the transition.
Need additional help getting your marriage on track? Schedule couples therapy right on our website.