The market for marriage advice seems bottomless. I myself have written more articles than I can count on the topic (and I will probably continue to write more!). I have studied the love languages and the personality types and read book after book after book. But it recently it occurred to me that perhaps it can all be boiled down to one idea, from which everything else flows:

Make your husband your priority. Before your job, before your community work, before your children (gasp!), before your girlfriends, before your sleep (!), before your….

This is THE secret to a happy and successful marriage. (If I could bottle it, I would make a fortune). But, like much of Jewish wisdom, this is a simple concept to grasp and a difficult one to implement on a daily basis.

What does it look like practically?

Before your job: Yes, you need the income. Yes, in order to receive your salary, you need to do good work. But work needs to be left at the office. Your husband should not feel like he is competing for your attention with the brief that is due the next day. You may get more external reward for successfully completing a project in your workplace but your real effort belongs at home. It’s a funny thing; my husband frequently counsels men that when their wife calls them at work, they need to take the call (sometimes the obvious needs to be stated!) and they need to switch gears to husband mode. The same is true for us. No deadline is more important than our husband’s needs, our marriage’s needs.

Before your community work: We don’t have to be like Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House to be guilty of neglecting our family for the “greater good.” Popular wisdom has it that women have a hard time saying no. I don’t have the scientific evidence but speaking from personal experience, that seems to be true. There are so many good causes out there, so much need within the Jewish community and the broader world at large. It’s good to give, it’s important to give; it’s setting a great example for our children. But only if we have the time and energy to do it with no cost to our marriage. If our work for the community starts to take precedence or takes a toll on our relationship with our husband, we need to pull back. It’s difficult. There are no plaques for being a good wife but this is the relationship that will outlast all the dinners and galas and other fund-raising events. I’m not putting down community work. I think it’s crucial and I like to think I am doing some myself but we need to keep our priorities straight.

Making your husband your priority is the ultimate expression of true love.

Before your children: This is a very difficult area but essential. We can’t ignore our husbands to focus on our children. It is not healthy for our marriage and it is not healthy for our children. They need to learn that the world does not revolve around them and they can be patient and wait while their parents are talking. Obviously we have to use age-appropriate judgment but I’ve heard mothers of infants explain that they need a few hours a day to play with the baby and therefore have no time for their husbands. This may be radical but very young babies do NOT need a lot of play time. They are content to sit/sleep on your lap while you converse with your spouse. A stable, happy home is a much greater gift to your children than an extra 15 minutes of floor time.

Before your sleep: This needs its own category because we are sometimes sooo tired that it’s hard to function let alone give our husbands attention. But we need to combat this. We need to find time every day to connect, to pay attention, to focus. We need to stay alert to hear about his needs and his day and we need to also conserve energy (take a nap!) in order to preserve the intimacy in our marriage. This is not an area that can be neglected until the children are older.

Before your needs: This is a broad, all-encompassing category which really suggests the attitude we should have. We want to give to our husbands. We want to do what they need or require, not in order to get back but because we care about them and this is an expression of love. It’s not difficult to rise above our own needs to take care of our children. Our many sleepless nights attest to this. But, when it comes to our marriage, to our most crucial relationship, we seem reluctant to make the effort. And we start to keep score. (Would anyone ever think of keeping score with respect to their children? Of course not. We know it’s a losing battle!) The true secret to a good marriage is to be a giver. Barring abuse and severe psychological disturbance, this will work every time. To paraphrase the Talmud, if you attend to his needs, then he will attend to yours. But it only works if that’s not your goal, if your goal really is to give to him.

Making your husband your priority is the ultimate expression of true love. Otherwise we are just fooling ourselves and it is really about me. Like I said, it’s simple to grasp but really difficult to implement.

Next week: The Secret to a Happy Marriage: For Men