The following are different thoughts and quotes from various “marriage experts” concerning various aspects of your marital relationship when you have children. We pray they will help you in your situation:
• Children change a marriage. Completely and permanently. They change who we are as individuals and as a couple. They change the way we think and act and relate to each other. They are both an incredible joy and a total distraction as they cause us to redefine ourselves and our relationship. Children throw a marriage out of whack.
Think of a marriage and family as a whimsical mobile. The mobile is first made up of a husband and wife who are tied to each other by their heartstrings at their wedding. For a time they bounce around together as they adjust to each other’s personalities and habits, values and expectations. Soon they settle down as they gain a sense of balance in their relationship. In time, a child is added to the mobile. New strings are added, the original ones are stretched, and the whole mobile wobbles crazily out of whack.
This bouncing around increases as a second and maybe a third child is added. Husband and wife have become mom and dad, and they face a critical transition in their marriage. Their challenge is to regain a sense of balance in their relationship within the new configuration of the family mobile. (Dr David Stoop and Dr Jan Stoop, from the book, “The Complete Marriage Book”, page 230, published in 2002, by Fleming H. Revell, a Division of Baker Book House Company)
• Couples marry because they think their romantic relationship will continue throughout their lives. And it would, if they were to continue meeting each other’s intimate emotional needs. But as soon as their children arrive, there is a very high likelihood that their romantic relationship will end, because they cannot find time to give each other undivided attention. And with the end of their romantic relationship, their marriage is at risk. Children do not require parent’s attention 24 hours a day. Nor do they suffer when parents are giving each other their undivided attention. It’s not the child’s fault that parents neglect each other when children arrive — it’s the parent’s fault when they decide that their children need so much of their time, they have not time left for each other. But the truth is that couples have time for both their children and each other, if they schedule their time wisely. (Willard F Harley, from Marriage Builder’s article, “Caring for Children Means Caring for Each Other“)
• Some studies I’ve been reading and opinions I’ve heard are trying to paint children as a cause for unhappiness in a marriage — even suggesting that children can bring a marriage to an end. Not true! What is true is that when children are painted into the marital picture, pressure is added to the parents’ relationship. This added pressure simply reveals the presence of cracks in the relationship between the husband and wife. Cracks, such as poor communication skills, difficulty negotiating, hurtful behavior, and justifying neglect, are magnified as pressure in a relationship increases. Financial and family pressures are also famous for revealing weak spots in a relationship.
When a husband and wife know how to work together as a team and maintain the conditions that allow them to stay in love with each other, financial difficulties, family related concerns, and raising children will not cause unhappiness in a marriage. The discovery of weak spots revealed by pressure in a marriage should be seen as an opportunity to improve and strengthen the relationship. But improvement can only happen when actions are taken to prevent the cracks from getting worse. These actions include participating in marriage education courses that focus on meeting emotional needs, negotiating, and communication skills will help to eliminate cracks that can turn out to be the true cause for unhappiness in a marriage. (Steven W Harley, from Marriage Builders Newsletter 5/9/2008)
• Children deepen, complicate, and test the “I do’s” of marriage. When a couple stands at the altar and makes those vows about “for better or for worse” and “in sickness and in health,” they hardly have a clue of what they’re saying. But they learn to live out those vows at a deeper level when they begin raising a child together. (Dr David Stoop and Dr Jan Stoop, from the book, “The Complete Marriage Book”, page 231, published in 2002, by Fleming H. Revell, a Division of Baker Book House Company)
• God says that a man is to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife (Genesis 2:24). A woman should not leave her husband—even in a psychological sense—and cleave to her children, yet that is what is happening in many modern households. To do this injures you, your family, and your relationship with God. Marriage is intended to be the highest form of love and communication that exists between two people. To replace this relationship with your relationship with your children is to alter God’s plan for your life. (From the book The Politically Incorrect Wife by Nancy Cobb and Connie Grigsby)
• One of the best things any of us can do for our children is to provide them with a strong marital model. Children need to know that their parents love not only them, but each other. The child’s sense of security grows as he/she sees parents loving each other. To put your marriage on hold for 18 or more years while you raise the children is not only detrimental to the marriage, it’s devastating to the children. We must learn to “childproof” our marriages during those parenting years, or we’ll soon learn that the marriage withers and dies.
When the parental team breaks down and begins to disintegrate, the children become the biggest losers. They lose their family unit, which is where they build their sense of security. When children don’t feel secure, their whole world seems to unravel. No amount of baseball, dance, piano lessons, or toys can make up for that kind of loss. (Dr Debbie L. Cherry, Child-Proofing Your Marriage, pg. 11-12)
• How easy it is for us to blame our husbands for lack of moral support and for not appreciating the sacrifices we make raising children and keeping a home. Yes, we married sinners. But we need to remember that we are just as guilty of imperfection as they are. They married sinners too! (Donna Otto, The Stay at Home Mom, pg. 133)
• Having children helps us recognize who we are; they reveal our inability to be always loving and patient and and kind in our marriage and in our parenting. We find ourselves out of balance with no ability to make things right on our own. We reach the end of ourselves and turn to God for help because He is our only lasting source of hope. (Dr David Stoop and Dr Jan Stoop, from the book, “The Complete Marriage Book”)
• By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. (Proverbs 24:3-4)
• When you learn to “hang in there” with each other, you’re giving a priceless gift of loving security to your children. A familiar bit of advice on parenting is directed to both mom and dad: “The best thing you can do for your children is to love each other.” Children are watching us all the time, and when we model a relationship that hangs in there through life’s normal conflict and challenges, we’re demonstrating to them that they too, will have a place to hang securely in life, despite everyday difficulties. Marriage teaches us how to love, and children learn that lesson from watching. (Elisa Morgan and Carol Kuykendall, When Husband and Wife Become Mom and Dad, pg. 32)
• Let nothing come between you and your husband—not your house, not your pride, not your friends, not your work, not your kids. You and your husband are one. The children will be there, of course. They are part of you, and you are responsible for them. But there is no relationship on earth like the marriage relationship. God uses it to model the church (see Ephesians 5:22-33). Nurture your relationship with your husband so that it lasts the longest and means the most. (Donna Otto, The Stay at Home Mom, pg. 136)
• Never allow your children’s wants to take precedence over your husband’s needs. (Dr. Todd Linaman)
• One of the big struggles with marriage today is the tendency to put our kids’ needs before those of our spouse. What we don’t realize is that child-centered marriages are often weak marriages, and in the long run they hurt the kids more than help them. If your spouse is not getting his or her emotional needs met by you, often he or she will pour all their energy into the children. The end result is an unhealthy marriage relationship. Obviously, I’m not talking about neglecting your children. I just want to emphasize the importance of seeking to keep your marriage vows a major priority. When children see a marriage relationship of integrity, they’ll feel more secure. In fact, Scripture says, “He who walks with integrity walks securely” (Proverbs 10:9 NKJV).
I’m convinced that a marriage of priority and integrity will be one of the best offerings you can provide for your children. You may still need to give extra time and attention to the needs of your kids, especially at certain seasons of their development. However, your kids must also see their mom and dad taking time for each other through regular date nights, daily connection times, appropriate expressions of romance, and even a commitment to time away for replenishing your relationship. I’m sure you’ve heard the true statement: “Do your kids a favor and love your spouse.” (Jim Burns, from the book, Creating an Intimate Marriage)
• Make a commitment to say yes to your spouse as often as possible. Remember that you don’t want him or her to be the most likely one to hear a “No, I don’t have time for that” from you. Help your spouse to know that he or she really is your number one priority and that even the children’s schedules take a backseat to what your spouse needs from you. (Dr Debbie L. Cherry, Child-Proofing Your Marriage, pg. 188)
• When a woman holds her children in higher regard than she does her husband, she is giving them an exaggerated sense of their own self-worth. They come to believe that they are more important than Dad and frequently see themselves as more important than others. (From the book The Politically Incorrect Wife by Nancy Cobb and Connie Grigsby)
• If you are aways pushing your spouse aside for time with the children, you may want to consider just what you’re teaching your children. By the way you treat your spouse, are you modeling for your children how you hope they will treat their future spouses? Probably not. Spending time with your spouse not only draws the two of you closer together, but it also teaches your children that the marital relationship has to be our number one human relationship. (Dr. Debbie L. Cherry, Child-Proofing Your Marriage, pg. 82)
• When I say, “Don’t make your children the centerpiece of your home,” some couples react pretty strongly. They immediately ask, “Well, why not?” Here’s my answer: You don’t do it because it gives them the idea that they’re the center-piece of the universe. And if that’s true, then where is Almighty God? And where are other people? Doesn’t this breed the kind of permissiveness and selfishness that we see in so many homes? (Dr Kevin Leman, Becoming a Couple of Promise, pg. 46)
• “Too often when the children leave the nest, couples move from a child-focused marriage to an activity-focused marriage,” Claudia Arp said. “Community or church activities may now take up the time and energy formerly devoted to your children. Kids were buffers and unfortunately, these activities may still be buffers to a mutual partnership marriage. “Couples need to make the transition to a partner-focused relationship.” (From the article, “When the Kids Fly the Coop” by Linda Wessling, published in the Fifty Plus Advocate, January 11, 2001)
• QUESTION: Is it okay to disagree in front of the children? Yes. How else will children learn how to discuss and solve problems? Children raised in homes where spouses never disagreed in the kids’ presence often develop the perception that their parents never clashed. To develop the conflict resolution skills they’ll need if they marry, children need to know that their parents did struggle—and how those struggles were resolved.
Some issues, of course, should be discussed only behind closed doors. These include issues young children can’t understand. Adult problems such as sex in marriage, financial trouble, and addictions should be discussed in private. Decide in advance with our spouse which subjects are “off-limits.” Focus on the Family counselor Jim Groesbeck adds this advice:
“If your voices remain calm, if there’s mutual respect and good listening, and if the subject matter is appropriate for children, then open discussion in front of them may be helpful and serve as a model. But the children must witness a positive outcome, not a negative one.”
(Mitch Temple, from the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• One evening, [my husband] Jack came home late as usual, and as usual I started my normal whining and haranguing: “Why are you late again? Why can’t you ever be on time for dinner? You must waste time earlier in the day and then we have to suffer.” You name it, I said it. Then one of the children looked at me and said, “Why are you always mad at Daddy?” It was like a slap in the face. I was stunned! After all, it was his fault. Why blame me for being angry? I don’t recall what my reply was, but I’m sure it was self-serving.
Almost immediately the Holy Spirit spoke to me: “When you stand before your heavenly Father, He will not ask you about Jack’s shortcomings, but He will ask you about your attitudes and responses.” Wow! Even though he interrupts our schedule and upsets our lives, I’m supposed to be loving and kind and supportive? The Holy Spirit answered me sweetly, “Yes.”
I didn’t hear an audible voice, but in my heart I knew I had received a rebuke from the Lord and it was my responsibility to make things right. I didn’t change overnight, but with the Lord’s help it was a beginning point. That encounter has never left me, and when I begin to step over the line, I ask Him to take control and bring me back. I learned that the blame game has no place in a marriage.” (Jean Bishop, from the book, “The Best Thing I Ever Did for My Marriage”)
• Good communication isn’t only helpful to couples; it also sets the stage for how their children will communicate as they grow up. If children witness their parents engaged in bickering or name-calling, or if evenings are spent in stony silence, that’s what they’ll learn. I’m reminded of a very negative man I once knew who came to dinner every evening with a complaint. His day was lousy, his job was rotten, his boss was a jerk, and so on. Yet this same parent seemed surprised when his own son began remarking that he hated school, his teachers were all idiots, and his friends were fools.
I encourage parents to work on good communication skills both for themselves and their own emotional health and sense of inner peace, and also for their children. It’s much more beneficial for kids to see their parents discussing issues, exchanging ideas, and occasionally, when there has been a bad disagreement, hugging and making up. It’s okay for children to know that their parents sometimes disagree; but it’s also important for kids to see their parents coming together again.
So often, misunderstandings between couples are resolved privately, after the children are asleep or when they’re out playing. It’s healthy for them to see that their parents can have differences and still love and care for each other. (Dr Robert Frank, Parenting Partners, pg. 96)
• The way you relate to each other sets the atmosphere in your home. If you habitually joke and laugh together, your home will be a fun place to be, and your children will learn how to laugh and enjoy life. Conversely, if your kids only see you argue, they’re more likely to argue. What’s the general tone of your home? Think about how you relate to each other. If your marriage sets a positive tone, your children will be benefactors! (Elisa Morgan and Carol Kuykendall, When Husband and Wife Become Mom and Dad, pg. 27)
• As members of a parenting team, you will need to develop a game plan. As you parent, you will need to have a variety of options to choose from. Discuss these with your spouse and agree upon the basic set of interventions, that make up your parenting game plan. If there is a particular suggestion or style of parenting that one of you isn’t comfortable with, take additional time to discuss it. You will not agree on every specific way you choose to raise your children. If the differences are minor, you may be able to work out a compromise or trade-off.
For example, if one of you is concerned about the amount of television your children watch and the other thinks television is fine, you may be able to compromise on a selected amount of television or particular set of programs. However, if the differences are more extreme and have an emotional component for one of the parents, you may be better off deciding not to include that particular intervention. For example, if your spouse is strongly opposed to physical punishment because of being abused as a child, regardless of how you feel about this, you should be willing to not use this form of punishment and work to find alternatives. (Dr Debbie L. Cherry, Child-Proofing Your Marriage, pg. 120)
• Hope comes in realizing that the chaos you’re experiencing in your marriage is perfectly normal. The birth of a child does bring an imbalance to your relationship, but here is the important message: You can regain your sense of balance in your marriage by recognizing this as a normal transitional change and learning how to love your way through this transitional change and learning how to love your way through this transition.
In fact, the way you and your spouse regain your balance as you face this challenge will establish the pattern you will use to face other developmental changes in your marriage in the future. Learning to love your way through these normal periods of imbalance will deepen and enrich your marriage relationship. (Elisa Morgan and Carol Kuykendall, When Husband and Wife Become Mom and Dad, pg. 27)
• Teens are masterful at finding the parenting team’s weak spot and going right for it. If you don’t agree in a certain area, they know it (probably better than you do) and will use it to their advantage. As parents of teens, you must learn to discuss your differences in each of these three main areas: 1. the amount of freedom to be allowed, 2. the appropriate amount of responsibility, and 3. the definition of effective discipline) and work to reach compromises that both of you can be comfortable with. This could take some time and energy.
Be willing to continue the negotiating and brainstorming until you can reach a mutually satisfying resolution. Avoid the trap of giving in just to get it over with or because it seems too hard. If you give in, knowing that you really don’t agree with the decision, you may later find yourself undermining the other parent’s authority, causing additional marital conflicts. The couple should agree not to make any decisions in any of these 3 main areas without complete parental agreement. Keep working through options until the two of you can find one that you both feel comfortable with. (Dr Debbie L. Cherry, Child-Proofing Your Marriage, pg. 201)
• If you’ve expected to have biological children but infertility dashed that dream, you’ll need to work through feelings of hurt, disappointment, and loss. It’s especially important to recommit to your relationship with your spouse, which now includes the reality that having children biologically is unlikely. Does that mean you must completely erase all grief and pain before you’re qualified to adopt? No. But working through your feelings can lead to a clear-cut, clear-headed decision to accept life without children, or to adopt. If this takes the help of a Christian therapist or pastor, don’t hesitate to get it. (Gail Schra, from the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• If it turns out that you and your spouse are unable to have a baby, it will take time to reach a point of acceptance. It will mean understanding that God is real, that He is there, that He understands, and that He is not punishing you. If needed, a pastor or Christian counselor can help you on this leg of the journey. You may have sad days and angry days along the way. But there is hope for joy and contentment again as you and your spouse learn to enjoy the life God has given you. It may mean making new plans—perhaps adoption, or redefining yourselves as a family of two. Either way, deciding whether to believe that your heavenly Father truly wants the best for both of you is a choice that’s in your hands. (Sheryl DeWitt, from the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• Adoption isn’t a “cure” for infertility, but many couples have discovered that an adopted child is an incredible blessing to a family—just as a biological child would be. You also have the choice of redefining your household as a family of two. As Helen Keller put it, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens: but we often look so long at the closed door that we don’t see the one that has opened for us.”
If having a child is not the next step in your journey, you can use that time to try out your gifts, enjoy your spouse, and discover other meaningful things that life has to offer. God has a plan for you and your mate; begin to pray for direction and the ability to find that fulfillment. As hard as that is, you can choose to believe as the psalmist did, “for the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Psalm 84:11). (Sheryl DeWitt, from the book, The First Five Years of Marriage)
• So many couples today decide to have children for all the wrong reasons. They believe that having children will bring an end to all the pain in their lives. Somehow the home will magically become filled with love and warmth when they bring the baby through the door. They somehow hold on to the belief that the addition of children into the marital mix will serve as a way to solve problems that the marital relationship may be having. This belief is based on the idea that once we have a baby, everything good will only get better and everything bad will disappear.
Actually, the opposite is true; a baby often makes things worse. If the couple doesn’t deal with the problems they already were having, the problems will most likely rear their ugly heads again. Why? Because unresolved conflict always shows back up. And now you will be sleep-deprived and cranky when it gets there and even less likely to resolve it with a baby crying in the background. (Dr Debbie L. Cherry, Child-Proofing Your Marriage)
• Marriages are most fragile when couples have small children, precisely the time when they need to be the most strong. A little over half of married couples report that their marital satisfaction diminished when their children arrived. Only 20 percent report that their marriage satisfaction improved after having children, while about 30 percent indicated their marriage remained the same. There are many reasons for the temporary dip in satisfaction—including conflicts over role expectations, money, work, social life—but the point is that each stage of life has different stresses and satisfactions. (Dr Richard E. Matteson and Janis Long Harris, What If I Married the Wrong Person?)
• If you believe that a child is going to meet your needs, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The needs I most often hear soon-to-be-parents say they expect a child will fill are the need to be loved unconditionally and the need to be needed. Experiences of caring for our new baby early on may make us feel needed and important. However, as we realize that these demands are a constant drain and that we rarely get a break, we begin to feel suffocated. Unconditional love is something that we spend our entire lives learning to give. How could we expect a new baby or young child to love us unconditionally? (Dr Debbie L. Cherry, Child-Proofing Your Marriage, pg. 45)
• When our children marry, the family circle expands and relationships become more complicated. All of these relationships affect our marriage. So here are the “best of the best” tips we’ve received for keep in-law relationships positive: … “Build the relationship with each couple. Some of your best times will be couple to couple.” … “Visit each couple, but not too often or don’t stay too long.” … “Let them parent their own children.” … “Resist the urge to give advice.” … “Realize that you and your married children are not in the same season of life. You have very different goals.” … “Tolerate small irritations.” … “Build a relationship with each of your grandchildren.” … “Be interested in your children’s professions, hobbies, and activities.” … “When you visit, find ways to participate in their household. Find a balance between pitching in and helping and being the guest.” (From the book, “The Second Half of Marriage” by David and Claudia Arp)
• I do a “Gramma week” each summer. Practicing what I preach—helping my kids, as Bill Doherty would say, “take back their marriage.” I have 5 grand kids from 1-7 years of age. I tell my two sons to plan a “marriage vacation” — and we all — my sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren and I — look forward to it all year. I suggest all of us who are able to —should do this. I think of it as preventive grand parenting— to help make sure we don’t end up either losing contact with our grand kids or raising them full time after a divorce. (As James Bray pointed out in the session on step families at the Smart Marriages conference 50% of all divorced adults return to live with their parents after divorce — bringing their kids with them.)
But more, I love giving the kids the idea that their parents have a romance going on that doesn’t require their presence. And that marriage is fun. They get all giggly over the idea of their parents going on a “romantic” marriage vacation. For those of you whose parents who can’t do this — I encourage you to set up a swap with siblings or friends. It takes planning— so start now. If you can’t manage a week, take a long weekend. It’s a message to each other— and to your kids. (Diane Sollee, from: Smartmarriages Subject: Gramma week/marriage skits/finances/The Best Gift Ever -8/30/02)