Written by Aarthi Arun and published on 26 July 2021.
As parents, we instinctively respond to the needs of our children. But, while doing so, do we begin neglecting our relationship with our spouse? For, a healthy marriage builds a happy home.
As they say, I've married the love of my life. My husband was the most important person in my life - that is until my son came along. Suddenly, everything became about my son. Being a hands-on mother, I dedicated all my energy to him. Whenever my husband wanted some attention, I would always remind him that he is an adult and must fend for himself. It is only recently that I attended a workshop with a relationship counsellor, which opened my eyes. Looks like putting my child first is not really helping me, my husband or my child. I'll tell you why:
"As humans, we are emotional beings. We tend to function and thrive better when our emotional needs are met," says Dr Nithya Poornima, Assistant Professor, Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS, Bengaluru. She adds that a spouse fills the place left by your parents, and your partner becomes the most significant part of your life.
You must recognise and nurture the relationship with your spouse so that it continually grows. In the melee of raising children and in the everyday rush, it is tough to just take care of yourself, leave alone your spouse - there's hardly any energy left for that. But, isn't your spouse one of the most important persons in your life? Think about your early relationship days. Remember, your child will someday fly away from the comfort of your nest. You will only have your spouse then. Don't let the child-rearing years pass by without focusing on this crucial relationship. Also, when you and your spouse are in it together, you can make informed decisions and discipline your child effectively.
"The best security blanket a child can have is parents who respect each other."
- Jan Blaustone, author of the book, The Joy of Parenthood
A stable marriage where two parents love and respect each other is the best gift you can give your child. From behaviour to future relationships, here is how it helps your child:
When two parents are in love and in sync with each other, it creates a positive environment at home. A child will thrive in the comfort and safety of such a home. On the other hand, children from aggressive and hostile households end up with severe psychological problems in their adult life. Even if a relationship is void of arguments and aggression, children can still sense their parents' resentment and stress levels.
Your child will find it easy to connect with you when you are in a mature relationship where you solve conflicts amicably. Dr Nithya adds, "A child will be more accepting of parental support when parents are respectful and caring towards each other. When a child sees constant conflicts between parents, she will assume that the parents' buckets are already full. When she has a problem, she will hesitate to go to her parents for support." If you're putting your marriage on hold to raise your child now, don't be surprised in the future if your teen doesn't feel the need to connect with you. How will your child find you reliable if you have unresolved issues yourself?
You celebrate your child and put her above all others. But, a child who is kept in the spotlight is likely to be self-centred. Overprotection, overindulgence and constant hovering will make your child clingy; she will grow into an adult who is dependent on you. Diverting attention to your spouse will show your child that she is not the centre of your universe. When you are cordial with your spouse, your child will also learn about compassion and kindness.
For your child, you are the first role model. So, how you treat your spouse sets the stage for his future relationship goals. If you neglect your relationship and stay emotionally distant from your spouse, your child will get the idea that relationships are not that important. "Children take in their parents' behaviour subtly and/or subconsciously, and that becomes a template for them," Dr Nithya says.
"Marriage is not a noun; it's a verb. It isn't something you get. It's something you do. It's the way you love your partner every day." - Barbara De Angelis, Author and Relationship Consultant
Successful couples make an effort and make time for each other. They simply don't find the time, but consciously allocate time to be with each other. But again, it is the quality that matters over the quantity. Here is how to do it:
We all are guilty of this: we tend to take our spouses for granted, especially with so many things going on in the family. Take this chance to go right back to your early relationship days by celebrating your spouse. The fact that your spouse has remained with you through thick and thin and that he/she is the father or mother of your child makes it all the more important - not any less. Be thankful for your spouse, and appreciate and compliment generously. Better still, do it in front of your child to set an example.
One of the key ingredients of a successful marriage is friendship. Is it not fun to have your spouse as your best friend? Your spouse is your better half; there is no competition here. "Parents must remain friendly and acknowledge that they are both a part of the same team," Dr Nithya insists. She adds that when parents represent themselves as a couple in a social circle, it boosts their team spirit.
Lack of communication is the prime reason why partners go separate ways. In a secure relationship, communication is open-ended. When you bond emotionally with your spouse, you learn to trust and respect each other. You don't have to hide things or feel awkward sharing things. Having said that, communication is a double-edged sword. All talk with no listening can be counterproductive. In fact, listening makes you a better communicator.
Work things out with your spouse in a friendly and mature manner and let your child observe this
Have you heard of the term, out of touch? That is exactly what will happen to your relationship if you don't show physical affection to your spouse. Touch strengthens your relationship and resolves conflicts like nothing else. Simple everyday activities like hugging your spouse as soon as you come from work, or holding hands while relaxing before television will ensure your marriage is intact, and your child can take cues on how to treat her future partner.
Disagreements are an integral part of a successful marriage. You don't have to protect your child from it. Rather, work things out with your spouse in a friendly and mature manner, and let your child observe this. Doing so will help your child learn a valuable lesson on respectfully resolving problems. Moreover, your child will understand that disappointments are okay and not everything happens according to one's wishes.
If you're brooding over an issue that happened months ago, you're compromising your peace of mind today. Also, in the grand scheme of things, bickering over chores, or who buys what, or choice of TV channels just doesn't matter. Just three words for you: let it go. Talk out your issues with your spouse and clear the air as soon as possible. Here, Dr Nithya recommends simple yet effective strategies like not going to bed angry, or agreeing to let go of an issue after a time limit, say, after three days.
Your little munchkin may rule the roost in your home, but you must remember to set aside some time for just you and your spouse to relax and rejuvenate. Go out for movies, dinners or even, a small break. It will not help you much if you're worried about your child during such moments. For once, forget the diapers, behaviour issues, school fees, grades and a million other things about your child. Make sure you find a reliable and trustworthy babysitter like grandparents or a close relative, and concentrate on your relationship. There needs to be time for family vacations, but this should be just about the two of you.
Children take in their parents' behaviour subtly and/or subconsciously
Dressing up and going out for a fancy dinner or heading out to unwind on a vacation is sure enticing, but they may not be practically possible, always. Find joy in the little things of life. Have a late dinner together over a heartfelt conversation right on your balcony. Share chores or offer your spouse some alone time by taking care of your child. Many a time, recognising your spouse - by compromising and choosing his/her opinion - is all it takes to make a difference in your marriage.
Raising children comes with a great responsibility, and it is normal for your intimacy to take a back seat with young children around. But, physical intimacy is a deep biological need that has to be acknowledged. Emotional intimacy and physical intimacy are the two strong pillars that support the very foundation of your marriage. So, don't forget to prioritise and honour your spouse.
Akshaya, married for 40 years with two children and two grandchildren
My husband is a warm and caring person (just like my father!), and that was the first thing which attracted me to him. The biggest reason for the success of my marriage is that we share the same values. My husband is extremely tolerant and patient - I value these qualities in him. Back then, he was a weekend father, who was travelling on work through the week. So, he was naturally the indulgent parent because he got to be with the children only for a short time during the week. However, we made sure we struck a balance, and it worked well. The crucial point to note here is that my husband trusted me to raise our children.
We went on many family vacations and fondly remember our experiences (sometimes, even the not-so-good ones) and cherish them. Since there were no mobile phones then, 'actual' communication between us happened at home and that helped us connect better. We also made sure that we gave each other the necessary space.
I am an unconventional thinker and my husband is very supportive of that. And, he likes to explain things in detail, but I don't share the same enthusiasm for listening to his elaborate explanations! I do it anyway out of my love and respect for him. Mutual respect, support, companionship and trust are the important things that helps my marriage grow. There is no secret formula for a successful marriage, you just have to choose what works for you.
Chandralekha, married for 23 years with a grown-up daughter
I personally believe that ego is the main killer of any relationship, not only the marital one. 'A day that you fight is a day that you waste in your life' - that's my motto. So, we don't let ego clashes and fights come between us. We ensure we talk it out and solve our problems. I think my husband makes everything extra special for me because I have sacrificed many things for my family.
We also share everything that happens in our day-to-day lives. I work full-time and often reach home late in the evening. But, we make it a point to have the whole family sit together and discuss our day. This helps in easing the everyday stress. Both my husband and I wanted to raise our daughter to be independent and bold. We disciplined her in such a way that while one of us was stern, the other was still cool.
Ravindran, married for 21 years with a teenage son
Nobody is 100% perfect. In my home, my wife and I take turns to accommodate each other. My wife respects my profession and aspirations. She is very adjusting to my odd working hours.
She has given her best to raise our son. Between academics, nutrition and extra-curricular activities, she has been a hands-on mother. I am quite proud of that. The enthusiasm with which she takes care of us is simply astounding. I also love the fact that she is very independent and takes care of herself too.
At the end of the day, remember this great one-liner by the well-known American author, Mignon McLaughlin - A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. Happy Valentine's Day!