The Danger of a "Child-Centered" Marriage

kids, parents, and dog in bed
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Children require a lot of energy and attention. Child-rearing, however, should not be something couples undertake at the expense of their marriage. If this is the case, nobody wins! You must also think ahead to the quality of your marriage once the children leave the home. If you have not nurtured your marriage, you will face serious problems at that point.

How It Starts

Here are some reasons why people might (consciously or unconsciously) create a child-centered marriage:

  • To ignore marital problems.
  • To make less effort toward romance.
  • To create a barrier to intimacy.
  • To have a sense of control.
  • To “get it right this time” and not do what your parents did.

A preponderance of the research and professional opinion points to the need to balance child rearing with the intimacy needs of your relationship with your partner. According to prominent marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, “The sad irony is that in trying to create the perfect life for their children, these parents fail to provide what kids need most – a happy home.” The marriage that takes a back seat to the children’s needs eventually becomes troubled. The tension and stress in the home are often felt by the children. Children may actually become rather entitled and spoiled. Why wouldn’t they when the world revolves around them? They don’t learn the proper “hierarchy” of authority in the home. In case you were not sure, both parents should be at the top!

A Healthy Home

Alternatively, parents who take good care of their marriage, while at the same time raising their children, provide the following:

  • A proper role model of what a mature relationship looks like.
  • An image of a secure romantic bond.
  • Parents who are happier and less stressed.
  • A peaceful and balanced home.

There are some ways you can turn things around in your marriage if you believe that one or both of you are too child-centered. Remember to start with small changes. Don’t expect a drastic overhaul, but strive for a slow and gradual transition to a more balanced family structure.

  1. Have an open discussion about the problem. No blaming allowed! Talk about how you can work as a team to put more energy and focus on your relationship with each other. Ask each other, "What’s missing?” Figure out what you both need regarding emotional intimacy from each other.
  2. Help each other with better parenting. You both will need to back each other up and be on the same page with setting boundaries and limits with the children. When your kids start to hear “no” more often, they will most likely not respond positively. They are not used to this! They may even act out more because you are “changing the rules in the middle of the game.” For example, one evening you might skip the G-rated animated flick to go on a date night. Whether the kids approve or not, whether they whine and pout or not, you make the decision and stick with it. Do something for you as a couple.
  3. Make a point to have conversations that are not about the kids. Also, keep in touch during the day just to check in and not just to discuss the latest problem at school with little Johnny or to go over the weekly activity schedule. 
  4. Try new things together. Sharing in special activities together will help keep the spark alive. Every activity does not and should not just be child-friendly.
  5. Be affectionate in front of the kids. This may even embarrass them or they might make fun of you. Despite this, deep down, they know that this is a positive thing. You are modeling what a loving relationship looks like.
  6. Share household responsibilities and chores so one of you isn’t completely burned out. You need some energy for each other! Better yet, give your children chores that are age-appropriate. This is both healthy and good for their sense of competency and self-esteem.

Parents do not need to completely sacrifice their needs (and wants and desires) for the sake of their children. It will be imperative to make decisions based on what is good for each family member individually, and what is good for the whole family as a unit. Your children’s temporary unhappiness at these changes will subside as they adjust to the new structure, and the changes will most certainly pay off in the future, for both you and your kids.