Q: My wife and I love our three children. But with all the activity surrounding the kids, our marriage isn't as fun as it used to be. Is that normal?
Jim: Well, I'd have to say your scenario is common. When you were dating, engaged, and then beginning your marriage, you and your spouse were probably able to schedule everything around the time you spent together. But with children in the mix, your marriage has likely dropped down the priority list. Laundry, dentist appointments, school programs, sports practices -- those immediate concerns can suck up your time and energy.
In short, I suspect your home has become child-focused. Now, a child-focused home might seem like a good idea, because parenting is vitally important. Children need Mom and Dad to be engaged -- they need your attention, your affection and your affirmation.
But if everything -- including your marriage -- revolves around the children, your home is out of balance. The understandable desire to be a great parent becomes counterproductive when it overshadows your desire to be a great spouse. A strong marriage is one of the greatest gifts you can offer your children. It's the foundation of their stability and confidence in life and will benefit them throughout their lives. Numerous studies over the years have conclusively shown that kids thrive best in situations where Mom and Dad are together in the home and deeply committed to one another. That's not always possible, of course, but's it's certainly the optimum.
So my advice is to make a point of protecting your marriage. Love and serve one another. Make time for your spouse, even while you're both laboring to raise your children together. The bottom line is that everyone in the household benefits from a marriage-focused home.
Q: My husband and I loved our dog and were heartbroken when we had to have her put down a few months ago. I'm ready for another pet, but my husband is still grieving. I think he needs to just get over it and open up his heart again, so I'm tempted to bring home a cute puppy. I'm sure he'll come around when he sees it. What do you think?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: I think you should tread carefully. While you might be right about your husband's initial reaction to a new puppy, I wouldn't advise bringing one home unannounced -- for two reasons.
First, I'm sure your heart is in the right place and you obviously care about your husband. But the message this move would send is "You -- and your feelings -- don't matter." Respect is a significant aspect of any relationship; it's particularly essential in marriage. If a husband or wife experiences and senses disrespect from their mate, then trust, emotional safety and (ultimately) intimacy are compromised. You likely don't mean to be disrespectful. Still, dropping something like that on him without discussing it first, and agreeing on it, just isn't worth it.
Second, while those who don't have pets may not understand this, losing a beloved animal can be a deeply painful and profound loss. Where loss occurs, grief must follow. But grief isn't a one-size-fits-all formula -- everyone moves through it differently and at their own pace. If the process isn't allowed to play out to its conclusion -- leading to accepting the reality of the situation -- it can have detrimental effects on a person's emotional, spiritual and even physical health.
With all that in mind, I'd encourage you to be patient. Empathize with your husband and approach this as an opportunity to love him and hurt with him through a difficult time. That, in turn, will nurture and strengthen the bonds of your marriage -- ultimately drawing you closer together.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at jimdalyblog.focusonthefamily.com or at Facebook.com/JimDalyFocus.
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