Who should come first: your partner or the kids?

by Amy  - September 21, 2022

A question that comes up in any relationship with kids is which relationship is most important: the marriage or the kids? It can feel a little bit more complex in a blended family which includes a stepparent and step kids.

This article is based on a list of 10 tips or lessons that I think I learned in my marriage and my experience as a wife, stepmom and mom. 

You can find that list here. 

I have a coach friend who regularly shares on social media that she thinks it’s extremely important that the marriage relationship comes before the kids in a family. 

She creates social media posts about this topic. She gives this advice regularly when questions come up. She openly shares that this is something that dramatically improved her blended family life.

I have never told her this but I’m not sure I totally agree with her advice. 

Which is okay. It’s good that different coaches offer different advice. 

There have been times in my life where the thing that needed the most focus was my marriage. There are times in my marriage and my life where that was not the thing that needed the most focus.

What I say – how I personally coach because it’s what I think I currently believe is that it’s important to commit to working on your relationships. 

All of them. 

Focus on working on each and every one of the relationships.

There are lots of relationships in a family. 

The marriage relationship.

Relationships with stepkids and kids and inlaws. 

Relationships with the rest of the family.

Relationships with the ex…that one can be complicated. 

Relationships with your boss and your neighbors and teachers and coaches.

And don’t forget … your relationship with yourself. 

You probably skipped that one. Didn’t you?

It’s okay.

Treat yourself with some compassion. Deprioritizing your relationship with yourself can be easy to do.

If we’re going to prioritize one as most important it really might be our relationship with ourself. 

Because without that …what is there? 

Grab my book, Blend! by Amy Stone

What does it mean to work on a relationship?

When I was in my young 20s I was engaged to somebody that I did not marry. 

My boss had been married a long time. She seemed old to me at the time but honestly I was just a kid so my perspective was skewed. The point is I don’t know how long she had been married. She was probably 45 so maybe 20 years. 

Here’s the story. 

I very dramatically called off my engagement. Everybody in the office seemed to know about it. 

So my boss offered the entire group some unsolicited marriage advice. Nobody asked for this. It was at the end of a daily planning meeting she just said. Marriage takes work. Every day you have to get up and put the work in for the marriage. 

And then the meeting was over and probably most of us had very little idea what she was talking about because we were young and single and working all the time. 

Fast forward about 5 years and I get married to the man I’m still married to. I had heard a version of this over and over again. 

I still don’t think I understood what it meant. 

I thought that working on my relationship was doing things for the house and for the family. 

So, I tried to do a lot of that. What I’ve learned over 20+ years is that’s not the relationship. 

This will be a little bit different for every family and every relationship but keeping the living room clean is not working on the relationship. 

All the relationships in your family are significant

I started this by sharing the story of my friend who is also a coach who often shares that in her opinion her marriage is the most important relationship. 

I’m not saying she’s wrong. 

I also not saying she’s right. 

As the saying goes even a broken clock is right twice a day.

If you flip this around I think it is harder to answer the question. 

Ask yourself which is the relationship in your family that it’s okay to ignore?

Ooooh … ouch. That doesn’t feel good does it?

In my experience, each and every relationship in a family is important and when there is an issue it can be that one relationship is being ignored or neglected by accident or by necessity. 

Honestly, this can be tough to avoid in a busy family. There’s a lot going on. It’s very easy to say I’ll take care of myself tomorrow. Or I’ll check in with my husband tomorrow. Or I’ll call my friend tomorrow. Tomorrow slips away. 

This doesn’t mean that we are bad people. 

This is hard to do. 

The squeaky wheel gets the attention.

There’s only so much any of us can do at one time. 

We naturally focus on the most urgent thing. 

It’s hard to keep the attention balanced. 

Especially if there are big events in a family … and it seems like there are always big events in a family. 

Somebody is getting married so we all pay attention to that. 

Or somebody is sick so that gets the attention. 

And how can they not? How can we possibly not pay attention to the urgent things? 

Well this is the work. 

This is the work of being a caregiver and of being in relationships.

I think it’s hard to codify this but if I were to try I might say that it’s two parts.

Part one being intentional with what we do with our time and attention. 

Part two: being intentional with observing the balance of where our time is going. 

I feel like I have to do everything!

I was talking to a client and she was feeling beaten down and undervalued. Those are my words not hers.

She really did say, “I feel like I have to do everything.”

If she wanted a date night she had to schedule it and plan it.

If she wanted to be a part of her kids’ lives she needed to get herself there.

If she wanted healthy meals on the table she felt like she needed to make them. 

She said she really wanted her partner to make all of this a priority. 

If she was totally honest with herself she wanted her partner to do this without having to be asked.

She said she felt like it was never going to end.

Have you ever felt like this?

Probably not everybody feels like this. I bet some of you have felt like this.

It’s not my story. I heard it from a client but I remember feeling this way. 

When we dug into her schedule what we found is that her family is in a very busy time. Date night and family dinners are getting pushed to the side. Not because they aren’t important but because there’s a lot going on. 

There are 24 hours in a day and sometimes when you add up all the stuff going on bubble baths and date nights don’t fit.

I asked her if she wished she had support. 

She said yes. 

This is the crushing weight of caregiving. 

It is hard. 

I wish I had a magic wand to fix this but in my experience there are times when being a wife and a caregiver feels overwhelming because it is overwhelming. 

The solution only comes when a workload shifts. That can take time. 

It can be very helpful to have people around who understand this pressure. They may not be able to alleviate it but they can stand with you in the storm.

I remember once when I had a young and sick baby and I was just exhausted my dad sat on the couch next to me and let me cry. Nothing changed in that moment about my workload. I was still tired, I still had a sick baby and a very busy family. But it was helpful. 

Family Seasons of BUSY

It’s easy to say put your marriage first. 

But it can be tough to do. 

Sometimes people will describe this as a season of your life and I do think that sometimes there are just times in our life where some things are off balance. 

Sometimes the only way out … is through the mess. 

It’s hard. 

It can be very hard. 

How do you choose between date night and a kid’s football game? Hmmmmm. Well that seems like it might be a simple question.

You look at it with those two filters in mind: are we being intentional with our time it gets a check for yes. Are we being intentional with the balance of where the time goes. Maybe not quite perfect there. 

So then what you could do is have a discussion about what are all the relationships that need attention in the family. 

Stephen Covey author of the series of books 7 habits of highly effective families (and many more) describes this as making deposits in emotional bank accounts. That can be a helpful way to think about it. When one account is full then you can focus on another account.

It’s just not always easy. 

Your relationship with yourself

One thing I resisted for basically all of my thirties was admitting that I needed to pay attention to my relationship with myself. 

I don’t think this is altogether unusual for women with young children. 

I don’t think this is altogether unusual for young and driven professionals. 

It fascinated me because in my teens and 20s I had been very focused on my personal journey. People described me as motivated, and driven. Sometimes other words were used. The words nurturing and selfless NEVER came up. 

Then in my late early 40s I took a personality quiz that said I was a people pleaser. And it blew my mind because that was a total shift from what I had been in other times in my life. 

I had been intentional about prioritizing my family. I did it on purpose. I don’t regret it. But I can also see that I paid a price for this. I lost touch with myself and what made me happy. I pushed it so far that I was no longer able to be generous with the other people in my life. 

In extreme cases this is sometimes called compassion fatigue syndrome or caregiver burnout. Basically you can just hit a point where you have nothing left to give to others in the form of emotional support.  

One of the ways to recover from this and to avoid it from happening is to pay attention to making sure that you are taking care of yourself. This is the idea behind my concept called the cup of contentment. 

I believe that I have come to understand for myself that my relationship with myself is critical for the foundation for my relationship with others. 

In fact, as I look back on my experience  so far as a wife and a stepmom and a mom it’s a little bit stunning how much of that journey really was about me learning about myself. 

What does it mean to commit to working on your relationships?

To me this means lots of things. 

It can mean trying to never assume that the relationship is finished or complete. 

It can mean trying to be open to being curious about what relationships need some work today or right now?

It can mean trying to be aware and gentle with the web that is our family network that sometimes some relationships do get more attention than others and that it can require a rebalance. 

It can mean committing to working on the relationships for me includes the idea that a relationship with me is worth working on. 

This is not just something I ask of myself – this is also something that I look for in other people around me. 

I hope that this was interesting. 

If you’re curious about working with me you can find information about that here. 

Training for You

Grab my Steps for Happiness as a Stepparent


Amy Stone (she/her/hers) is a life coach who helps adults in blended families. She is a mom, step-mom and a step-grandma. Other random fun facts include that She is a 7-time Ironman triathlon finisher and many many marathons and shorter races. She created amysaysso.com.

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