Putting Your Relationship First When You Have Children

14/08/2014 16:53 | Updated 22 May 2015

Putting your relationship first, children second

We say hello to each other when we get back from work.

We tell the kids to not interrupt when Mummy and Daddy are talking (mostly about Breaking Bad, I admit, rather than higher intellectual pursuits).

We make sure the kids are in bed at a reasonable hour – not just because it benefits them, but also so that we get couple time (to watch Breaking Bad).

And we regularly leave the kids with babysitters for an evening, or with relatives for a weekend. (We might watch Breaking Bad but mostly we just sit in the house and marvel as it stays tidy.)

We've been doing this since my oldest was three months old. And we've had some stick for it, some gasps of 'Oh, I could never leave my baby that young.' So it was reassuring to find out that according to a new book by marital therapist Andrew G Marshall - I Love You But You Always Put Me Last: How To Childproof Your Marriage – we're not actually evil.

Yet how sad that it takes a book to point out what should be obvious: put your children second to your relationship with your partner. Marshall's been quoted as saying people would rather 'eat cat sick' than do this, and for the life of me I can't understand why.


To me, it's a sensible investment for the future. It's a given that your children will eventually leave you. Hopefully, your partner won't.


Of course, certain practical aspects of having a baby need to take precedence – nappies, feeding and suchlike. I have cancelled plenty of evenings out when my kids have been ill. But very young children's needs are primarily practical. They need to be cleaned, fed and smiled at, meaning that they can be looked after by pretty much any competent adult for an evening.

And once they get older, it does them no harm to realise that they are not the centre of the universe, and that Mummy and Daddy are actual people who will still, hopefully, be watching high-quality US drama together long after they have buggered off.

(That hackneyed old Kalil Gibran poem is good for justifying this, by the way. 'Your children are not your children,' I like to sonorously intone. 'Their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you may not visit, not even in your dreams, and thank heaven for that, as it will be a tip.')

Of course, this is a recent thing. Parents haven't always shared our entire lives with our children, from the moment they crawl into bed with us at 5am, through the endless days of Making Sure the Kids Are Amused/Educationally Stimulated, up until midnight when we're still lying groggily next to them trying not move a muscle in the hope that they'll finally drop off. We haven't always proudly boasted of 'never spending a night away from my baby' when said baby is five.

So what's caused this weird idea that your child must come before all else? I think it's the growing influence of attachment parenting theory. Previously sane, rational people are now being guilted into giving up their relationships with their partners in the mistaken belief that it is the best thing for their baby.

And if mothers (and yes, it is usually mothers who get slated for this) don't spend every waking hour talking about, thinking about and being with our children then we're cold, selfish automatons who haven't realised that having a baby means sacrificing your entire life. Forever.

Honestly, we believe this nonsense and then we wonder why, a few years down the line, we are living as polite flatmates who happen to have a child. Forget child-adult bonding, what about adult-adult bonding?

If you're spending 24 hours a day 'attached' to your baby, where are the opportunities for intimacy? If you're able to be passionate, erotic and spontaneous with a grunting baby in the corner of the bedroom, good for you. I'm certainly not. Marshall recommends putting a lock on the bedroom door. Good for him.

There was a lot wrong with stiff-upper-lip, seen-and-not-heard parenting back in the Old Days. But at least it didn't advocate this suffocating closeness, this recipe for a nuclear-family meltdown.

Which brings me on to the saddest aspect of entirely child-centred parenting: when your relationship crumbles, it will be your beloved children who suffer the most.

Me, selfish? Possibly. But I'd argue that it's far more selfish to leave a once-strong relationship to wither and die.


It doesn't take much to nurture it, as Marshall points out: making affectionate gestures, talking to each other like lovers and friends rather than diary secretaries, having sex and, vitally, not trying to be a 'perfect parent' can all help.


Try it. It's great. And you'll get to catch up on Breaking Bad.

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