What is the key to raising healthy kids as a couple? Believe it or not, it isn’t putting them first. And it’s not centering your life and your family around them. It’s actually making your marriage a priority. A healthy marriage might just be the best gift you can give your children. For sure it has a profound effect on them and their future.
First, healthier marriages help children feel more secure and secure kids do better in almost every way. When our children feel safe and loved, it gives them a foundation of emotional health and confidence they can build on for the rest of their lives.
Secondly, when we have a strong, joy-filled marriage we have more to give to our parenting. When we’re struggling in our marriage so much energy goes into managing the relationship and holding it all together that we have little left for other areas of our lives. It’s like having a toothache. It’s a constant, nagging pain. We can hardly think about anything else. But when we have a healthy, vibrant marriage, it’s life-giving. It actually multiplies our energy and capacity. We are parenting not from the dregs, but out of the overflow.
So now the big question: How? How do we get healthier in our marriage? You can watch the workshop video below or keep reading to find out! Here are three things we’ve learned….
Commit to your marriage. Wholeheartedly. For life. Most of us have made that kind of radical commitment and we really intend to live into it, but we can drift. Or we hit a rough patch. It’s happened in our life and it happens in many of the thousands of couples we get to talk to across Canada. Our advice? Don’t ignore the issues that led to the drift or the difficult season. Get third party help if necessary. Attend a FamilyLife Weekend Getaway Marriage Conference. Find some mentors. But don’t back away from the commitment. In fact, double down:
“I know things are tough. I know there are things we need to fix. But I want you to know this: I’m not going anywhere. All those promises I made are still the ones I’m committed to. I’m willing to work on things. I’m willing to change, to grow. I’m still all in.”
That’s the kind of thing we all need to hear from time to time. That kind of commitment provides the security we need to find the strength and motivation to work on our marriage, and it’s the kind of bedrock commitment that provides security to our children.
Children need to feel attached, connected, safe and loved for them to grow into healthy, whole independent people. That’s Parenting 101. But what’s often unsaid is how important attachment is to adults. It’s a human need. It’s not something we grow out of once we’re no longer children, but it does evolve. Instead of just needing it from our parents, we need to feel attached and connected to other adults and if we’re married, especially to our partner.
On the flip side, not feeling connected — isolation — is traumatic. Research shows that there’s a connection between feelings of isolation and the fear centre of our brain. When we feel alone, it triggers fear. So when we feel alone in our marriage, when we’ve drifted emotionally from each other, our relationship becomes a place of panic and anxiety instead of comfort and nourishment.
The busyness of life, job stress, financial concerns, even parenting itself can contribute to emotional drift. A young dad once told us: “My wife is so focused on our kids that I feel like I have completely dropped off her radar.” We gently pointed out that they were his kids, too, and he said, “Of course, I love my kids. But I didn’t want to lose my wife. I miss us.”
When we fail to stay connected emotionally to each other as husband and wife, we are not only depriving ourselves of the emotional nourishment of a healthy marriage, we are depriving our children of the healthiest possible environment in which to flourish.
The third thing is easy to say, but hard to do. In fact, it’s the work of a lifetime: Stick with it. Continue.
Celebrate the special days and the milestones. By all means, enjoy those peak moments to the full! But the real health, the real strength — and ultimately the destiny — of a marriage is determined between those peaks. The day to day stuff.
Here are some practical things that have helped us in our 44-year marriage…
1. Schedule time alone with each other.
We have developed a bit of a formula that has really helped us stay connected. We try to make time for each other:
15 minutes every day (non-logistical conversation)
One evening/half day once a week (date night or evening walk)
One day once a month (this was the hardest to schedule when our kids were in the home)
One weekend per year (we call it our “State of the Union” weekend)
We cannot tell you how much this has done for our marriage over the years. It hasn’t always been easy and it often felt like it was a whole lot more trouble and a whole lot more money than we could afford at the time. But looking back, those carved out times together have been the best investments we’ve ever made in our marriage.
If you don’t like our formula, come up with your own! But prioritize your relationship, even above your kids, by building these one-on-one times into your calendar. Your children will benefit in the long run.
2. Develop daily rituals, just between the two of you.
Kiss each other first thing in the morning (even with morning breath) and last thing at night. Commit to saying “I love you” every time you leave the house. Hold hands when you walk. Have coffee in bed in the morning before the kids wake up. We know one couple that moved their coffeemaker into the bedroom! Whatever works for you. Some couples give each other flowers every Friday or pack notes in each other’s lunches or write lipstick notes on the bathroom mirror. Tease each other. Flirt. Make dinner together.
Develop your own rituals, sew them into the fabric of your life together. Small gestures, over time, make for a big marriage. A rich and strong and resilient one.
3. Pay special attention to the first 10 and the last 10.
We’ve learned that the first 10 minutes when we come back together after being apart during the day sets the tone for the whole evening. Instead of importing all the stress of the day into our home, we try to leave it at the door. At least for the first 10 minutes! When we enter the home with a hug or a kiss, with an “I’m so glad to see you,” it makes our home and our marriage feel like a haven. A safe, welcoming space. You can talk about the hard stuff later, but enjoy that wonderful 10-minute buffer.
The second window of time that’s hugely important is the last 10 waking minutes together. Don’t waste those precious minutes before you slide into sleep. Consciously and continually make them moments of affection, peace, respect and kindness.
When we go to rest, typically the last words we’ll say to each other and hear from each other are “I love you.” That’s continuing.
4. Build spiritual practices into your life together.
This can be a challenge. Maybe you have different inclinations or you are attracted to different spiritual practices. That’s OK. There are many rich traditions of spirituality in Christianity. But try to find at least one or two spiritual things you can do together. We don’t read the same books, listen to the same music, like the same sermons or Bible studies. In fact, we share very few spiritual practices, though we like to compare notes on what we’re learning and how we are each — in our own way — experiencing God. But we do go to church together and we have made a habit of praying together every morning and every evening. That practice alone has been a source of strength and comfort and intimacy throughout our entire marriage.
Commit. Connect. Continue. Live into these three things to thrive in your marriage. Model them for your children. Their future relationships will be influenced, above all, by yours. Build a strong, healthy marriage and you will be building a strong, secure foundation and future for your children.
“Children’s children are a crown to the aged.” Proverbs 17:6
We love that proverb! Although we don’t see ourselves as “aged” (yet), we can attest that grandchildren are super special. And the verse goes on: “Parents are the pride of their children.” What a cool way of thinking about the parent-child relationship! Wouldn’t you love to be the pride of your children? That’s good inspiration for when we drift or find ourselves in a tough season in our marriage. That’s motivation to change and grow and learn. And that is our prayer for all of us: that we would commit, connect and continue for life in marriages that bring us joy, that honour God and make our children proud.