By Carolyn Edgar
An article on the CafÃ© Mom blog generated a bit of controversy recently by suggesting that the key to a happy marriage is for women to love their husbands more than their children. Arguing that “if mom and dad aren’t happy, ain’t nobody else happy either,” the writer argues that a woman should prioritize her marriage higher than anything else, including the couple’s children.
This more traditional view of marriage has many proponents. A British celebrity, Kirstie Allsopp, created a stir in the UK this past summer by saying that women should put their partners first. I’ve heard it from girlfriends, too. My friend Paula Edgar jokingly says she and her husband take an “it’s us against the kid” approach to marriage and parenting.
On a simplistic level, it makes sense: put your energies into making sure your marriage is solid, and everyone, including the children, will benefit.
The problem with the article and its advice isn’t that it’s wrong. Like most marriage and relationship advice, it’s too simplistic. Advising women to put their husbands and their marriages first, or love their husbands more than the kids, presupposes marriages with loving partners who are also vested in their wives’ and children’s happiness, safety, security and well-being. That is quite a lot of presupposition. In marriages where this is not the case, putting your husband or marriage ahead of your children could be unwise, and in some cases, dangerous or even deadly.
It’s not possible to always put someone else’s needs, whether your husband’s or your children’s, ahead of your own. But every successful long-term married couple I know talks about the importance of being committed to the marriage and doing what it takes to ensure that the marriage remains strong. It’s not really loving your husband more than your kids – it’s not becoming just parents to your kids, and letting your marriage slide in the process. That’s not a one-sided affair. It requires both partners to be equally committed to the marriage and to each other.
The danger in a statement like “put your husband first” or “love your husband more” is that it implies a woman is wrong for thinking of her own needs. It’s the kind of statement that could be misconstrued to mean that a woman should be satisfied in her marriage as long as her husband feels his needs are being met – without regard to her own. It’s the kind of statement that has led to women overlooking and even ignoring her husband’s physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse – whether or her, or the kids – because she feels she has to love him and prioritize him over her kids.
I don’t disagree with the advice to prioritize your marriage over your parenting relationship with your spouse. I do think couples tend to get caught up into interacting with each other almost exclusively as parents, to the detriment of their marriages. I saw it happen in my own marriage, and although I don’t believe putting the kids first destroyed my marriage, it certainly didn’t help.
But instead of telling only wives to “put husbands first,” perhaps couples should be advised not to lose focus on their own relationship after the children are born. I like my friend Paula’s “it’s us against the kids” philosophy. Husbands and wives working together in partnership make for good marriages and good parenting.
Carolyn Edgar is a lawyer, a writer and a single mother. The order of those three things changes daily, but I’m always at least those three things. She’s a graduate of Harvard Law School, a former law firm partner and current vice president at a Fortune 500 company. Edgar practices law to pay the bills and writes for love and sanity. She’s also an avid reader, a social media maven, an indifferent yoga student, and a fan of most sports, especially tennis. She blogs about all of these things, at http://carolynedgar.com/ And when she gathers the courage to put more of her words out there, add “author” to the list.