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Who Comes First -- Your Spouse or Your Children?

Who Comes First -- Your Spouse or Your Children?

Children will go on to forge lives of their own, but the relationship with your spouse is forever. It fosters growth like no other relationship can.


"Through the act of marriage, the husband and wife become the closest of relatives." -- Nachmanides, 12th century

I have often been told that the most important relationship you have in your life is with your spouse, not your children. I know this is true: I know it from my Torah learning; I know it from my work as a family therapist; I know it from my own marital experience. But the reality of it was brought home to me on our recent family vacation.

In moments of challenge and stress our connection to each other was what nourished me and gave me the strength to go on.

We packed our nine children, our food and clothing for the week, and anything else we thought we just might need, and headed off on an eight-hour-drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It was a great trip; we learned a lot, we laughed a lot, we cried a little, we had plenty of good times; but it was a tremendous amount of work. And I couldn't have done it alone.

I am not talking about the physical effort -- my spouse wasn't crucial because he is bigger or stronger than my children - but the emotional effort. There were so many moments of challenge and stress where our connection to each other was what nourished me and gave me the strength to go on, and gave our family the strength and confidence to keep going. Now, all that my children remember -- and all that they tell their friends about -- is the fun they had. That's the power of a solid marriage.



For example, one of the big tourist attractions in San Francisco is Alcatraz, the former federal penitentiary. (Why this should be a tourist attraction is an interesting question but that's for another time.) Once we made the mistake of going there, finding activities that entertain both teenagers and toddlers proved a daunting task. My oldest especially enjoyed the boat ride to Alcatraz while my youngest screamed in terror the whole way. Once on the island, the wheel on my three-year-old's stroller broke, and pushing him uphill to the prison was no easy feat.

As we began our tour of the facilities the three-year-old's newly acquired skills surfaced, and he announced that he "had to make." This required navigating our way against the crowd of tourists and back out the front door. His bathroom ritual involved completely undressing and, of course, having to be redressed; this took time and, under the circumstances of the location, enormous patience.

How do you rise above the clamor of nine voices demanding your immediate attention without screaming your head off? I found unknown reserves of equanimity within myself because my husband was there supporting me. We'd turn to each other. Our eyes would mirror our frustrations to each other and the burden would disappear. We'd find the humor in our children's foibles and we'd laugh together. We'd give each other strength and perspective. We'd emerge at the end of the day, better, calmer parents for it, having demonstrated the healing and nurturing power of marriage.



The Torah teaches us that "a man doesn't die except to his wife." If we are successful parents, our children will go on to forge lives of their own, but the marriage relationship is ours forever. It fosters a depth and a growth that no other relationship can.

While parenting definitely requires that we discover physical and emotional resources that we never thought we had, the giving is nevertheless a very natural and instinctive response. But to give to a fully grown adult, whom you have not nurtured from infancy, to give to someone who is so different from oneself, and of the opposite sex to boot, that is a real challenge. It provides us with the opportunity to scale heights we didn't know existed, and unfortunately to descend to depths we didn't know existed. The kind of self-awareness and self-mastery necessary to create a truly giving and supportive marriage is unparalleled in any other relationship. And there is no more powerful gift that you could give to your children.

The Talmud states that: "A man who is without a wife lives without blessing, without joy ... without life."

The Talmud states that: "A man who is without a wife lives without blessing, without joy, without help, without goodness, without peace, without life... " In other words, the Sages teach us that marriage completes each one of us as a person and through this oneness we create a model of stability and security for our children. No words, ideas or parenting techniques can replace a solid, committed, loving marriage.

Many people make the mistake of giving to their children at the expense of the marriage. The real answer is to give to the marriage. Ultimately this is what will benefit our children the most.

May 20, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 13

(11) nicole, November 20, 2012 4:58 PM

kids first, husbands can come n go , kids are urs forever

I think kids shud come first speaking from personal experience as the child. My mother is marrying the guy who tried to rape me, and repeatedly touched me from 8 years old. I feel betrayed cus she shud put me first,. they broke up before, who says they wont again. i will always be her kid, he wont always be her husband. Now our relationship is ruined, i am pretty much mental from it. Ive had to leave home....and feel all alone. propel get divorced and start new lives with new spouses. You cant just decide to divorce old children for new if it doesnt work.

OM, January 18, 2015 9:36 PM

I'm so sorry, that's awful. You're right, you should have come first.

Even if they would stay married forever, how can someone love a person who did that to their child?? Before people think of who comes first they have to think of who it is they love. Someone who abuses your kids shouldn't be first, second, third, or anywhere in your life.

I wish you much love, peace and healing in your life from now on.

(10) Donna, October 10, 2009 1:55 PM

Comment (9) your answer is in your words...

You began by saying you believe that your spouse comes first. But changed that position after you ended up in a SECOND marriage, deciding that a child born before that marriage takes precedence over the new spouse. Then, you have the audacity to wonder why your spouse feels "hurt" because you have relegated her to a position beneath that of the child. (Is the "hurt" she is feeling causing you to feel...disrespected, maybe? I believe that what you have labeled as "hurt" in her might actually be a feeling of being...unloved by you??? A husband and wife ARE the foundation of a marriage...of that home...of that family unit. If you try to reposition it in any other manner, it crumbles, because it simply wasn't designed to work another way. A parents job is to raise and nurture a child (because that's what they are for up to about 18 years) so that child has the ability to find a suitable mate and build a healthy, happy marriage, which if you've done your job well (etc.), will last maybe 20 - 60... years and bring you each a lot of joy. Showing your children a healthy example of what a marriage is - you're grooming them for life and and a marriage of their own. If you put your marriage on the back burner to your child, EACH of you will suffer. Your children's marriages will likely be as good as - or no better than the one you SHOWED them how to have. Put your spouse first, for your children's sake. (Trusting that you have a good-willed spouse, of course!) If you think that putting your children first will somehow absolve you of some guilt of separating them from the other biological parent - for whatever reason - I would suggest that putting your children first cannot make up for the loss of the other parent. The ONLY thing with the potential to make that up to them is the bond you create with your spouse (the present one).

(9) Anonymous, October 26, 2007 10:08 AM

I agree, But....

I totally agree with this article. But tell me, who comes first in your second marriage. My fiance have argued over this this matter extensively. I believe that if the child is of your own creation with your wife, then, yes, the spouse is the most important thing. However, if we are married and both have kids from a previous marriage, I believe that the child comes first.This is where we do not agree. She believes she is number two in the relationship and feels "hurt". Can anyone help with this problem? Please...

Jennifer, January 9, 2013 9:49 PM

Being last

I am the second wife, I married man that was raising four children on his own with very limited contact with their mother. He repeatedly puts the children first. If they want to drink they can smoke weed they can, lie about me it's believed by him. We have been together 6 yrs and by now I no longer feel loved respected or as if this is even my home. I no longer argue since it never solves anything. My husband will not even listen to me on getting the kids to move forward all are over 18 none help around the house go to school or work. I no longer feel married. Spouses come first if there is to be any marriage

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