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Marriage First – Before Children – And Everything Else

Marriage first - before children - and everything else
Marriage first – before children – and everything else

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal why it is critical to put your marriage first – before your children – and everything else.

First a quick update:

“New treatment for depression”
In a new series of video interviews that chronicle leaders and developments in the addiction recovery world presented by Milestones Ranch Malibu Treatment Center, I interview Dr. John M. Hawkins (Chief of Psychiatry, Deputy Chief Research Officer and Director of Outpatient Clinic at the Lindner Center of HOPE) about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy in the treatment for depression. Watch the video here.

Now, let’s talk about the reasons that it is critical to put your marriage first, before your children and before everything else.

A television producer, who was doing research for a show about marriage and cheating, was shocked when I told her that parents need to put the marriage first, before the children.

“Why is that?” she asked.

‘Marriage is the nest, the foundation for the children’s growth and development on all levels’, I responded. ‘The kids will learn everything from their parents about life, including love, intimacy, affection, communication, conflict resolution, respect and priorities. Further, it is common that parents feel that once the child is born, the child must come first, before the needs of the spouse and relationship. But, when you neglect the marriage in order to make the children the priority, eventually the marriage fails and the children directly suffer when a divorce occurs; emotional and physical neglect are often factors in cheating in a marriage.’  Read my article “Affair-proofing your marriage”.

Children learn one of four ways:

  1. They copy what they see
  2. They believe and repeat what they hear
  3. They make conclusions based on emotional experiences
  4. They absorb the emotions of the household or dominant parent or parent they most resonated with

In other words, a child’s experiences and his/her role-models (parents or caregivers) form the blueprint for life; a blueprint about love, relationships, self-worth & deservedness, and the world around them.

Think about your attitudes and beliefs about life; from where did they come?

From your parents.

How are you similar to your parents? How does your current relationship reflect your parents’ relationship? How have your goals or even your attitudes towards money been affected by what you saw and heard between your parents?

A study in 1996 by Paul R. Amato (University of Nebraska at Lincoln) and Alan Booth (The Pennsylvania State University) reveals that “parents’ reports of problems in their relationships with children were significantly elevated as early as 8 to 12 years prior to divorce. Low quality in the parents’ marriage largely accounted for these associations. Early problems in the parent-child relationship and low quality in the parents’ marriage when children were 10 years old (on average) predicted low parental affection for children when they were 18 years old (on average). Divorce further eroded affection between fathers and children, but not between mothers and children. These findings suggest that the quality of the parents’ marriage has both direct and indirect long-term consequences for parent-child affection.”

Thus a poor relationship between spouses results in a poor relationship between parent and child; parents who are angry and argue with each other or express other tensions will also project those same emotions onto their children. A mother who has disdain or contempt for her husband will soon see her child acting the same way towards the father. Adult men who are abusive to women often grew up with a father abusing the mother.

Of course, many parents will report or state that they deliberately do not argue in front of the children. However, children are very sensitive to their environment. Even if they cannot directly hear the argument, they sense and absorb the tension, anger, bitterness or even contempt between the parents. This is what the child is learning about relationships.

Instead of hiding, parents can learn to negotiate in front of their children, thus teaching them that differences are healthy and necessary for creating balance in life by teaching children to listen respectfully, acknowledge differences, and seek solutions to problems rather than simply seeking to be right or vindicated. Children notice and pay attention to every detail – even if they do not tell you so.

Unfortunately, some spouses who have problems in the marriage (lack of intimacy, conflicts, insecurity, feelings of powerlessness or other unresolved issues) will attempt to escape those problems: mothers will escape and become fully preoccupied with their children/career and fathers will escape and become fully preoccupied with their career and work. One parent may even cling to a child to make up for what he or she is lacking in the marriage (companionship, friendship, connection, security, affection and self-esteem.) (Listen to “Stop being your child’s friend” my interview with Dr. Vicki Panaccione, Child Psychologist and founder of The Better Parenting Institute

The marriage must be the priority – before everything else. And that includes work, career and even the spouse’s own parents. Research also reveals that parents must have a separate identity from their own parents and excessive involvement between a mother and her childhood family can lead to anorexia or even obesity in the mother’s children due to enmeshment.

Children need a stable, consistent loving environment and when the marriage is placed below other things (work, career, co-curricular activities, etc.) there is even less family time and again, the children suffer. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, in its study “The Importance of Family Dinners II” (2005), reveals that teens that frequently have dinner with their families are at a lower risk for substance abuse. The study found:

Teens who had dinner with their families only two nights per week or less (compared with teens who frequently had dinner five times or more per week with their families) were twice as likely to be involved in substance abuse: 2.5 times as likely to smoke cigarettes, more than 1.5 times as likely to drink alcohol, and 3 times as likely to try marijuana.

Finally, remember, that everything that you make a priority in your marriage is what your child will grow up believing to be significant and valuable; if you put money, career and possessions first, your child will think the same. If you never take care of your own needs, then your child will do the same when he/she grows up. If you express resentment, anger or bitterness towards your spouse or withhold love and affection from your partner, then your child will believe that is the way relationships are meant to be. But, if you put love and relationships first, then your child will learn the significance of self-love and love for others.

Give your child what he/she really needs – a loving, nurturing, safe, peaceful and secure environment, and a powerful example of loving healthy relationships.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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