A “Marriage First” Household

My marriage is the most important relationship in my life. Yes, the most important.

Bryan and I existed as a couple long before we decided to have children. And on the day (God willing) when all four of our kids make their way as independent citizens of the world, Bryan and I will once again live in a household of two. In the mean time, we don’t like the idea of waiting until the year 2034 to make our marriage a priority.

To quote Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham of Downton Abbey: “Marriage is a long business.” I propose a “marriage first household” to make that business a happy one!


1. Spend time together without the kids. Do whatever it takes to get out of the house and leave the kiddos behind. Hire babysitters, ask grandparents, or share babysitting duties with your siblings and neighbors. Do not waste precious years “finding the time.” You have to make the time.

2. Close the laptop. Shut down the smart phone. Turn off the TV. You can’t always get out of the house for a date with your spouse, but while you’re together at home, at least focus on each other some of the time. This might even lead to . . . (see #3)

3. Have a lock on your bedroom door and don’t forget why it’s there. In all seriousness, sex is too easily neglected. The “make the time” mantra is useful here too.

4. Accept the reality that relationships take work. I’m guessing it’s common for each member of a couple to feel taken for granted some of the time. You can say you appreciate each other, but it doesn’t mean much without proof. I know, for example, Bryan appreciates all that goes into my weekly preparations for our Friday night (Jewish Sabbath) meals because he does a good chunk of the cleaning after the company leaves, even though it’s the last thing he wants to do. That clean kitchen means more than the most eloquent “thank you” or praise for the food. And he knows I appreciate him because I make those feasts consistently, even when I’m not in the mood to cook.

5. Make couple friends. Remember that funny, suave guy who swept you off your feet way back when? Remember how clever and delightful you were before getting the kids to eat something other than pancakes was your preferred topic of conversation? When you go out with other couples, you get to see your spouse’s best face, and he gets to see yours.

6. Give (young) kids a bedtime, preferably an early one. This goes back to my belief that there’s an epidemic of kids running the show at home instead of parents. I won’t repeat that rant today.

7. Use reason and sanity when signing the kids up for extra-curricular activities. Having the kids signed up for a zillion activities divides and conquers families and makes all the kids’ non-school hours rushed and frenzied. I’m not saying no activities; I’m saying limit the activities. And that’s a rant I wrote for Scary Mommy’s blog last year.

8. Take advantage of every opportunity to celebrate. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day–any reason you can find. In my mind “celebrate” doesn’t have to mean lavish gifts or even any gifts. I can’t remember the last time Bryan and I exchanged gifts. At this point in our lives with four small kids and many expenses, we’d rather spend extra money on babysitters and dinners out than presents. This goes back to #1 and #5. We’re investing in our marriage!

Kids benefit when the marriage is a happy and healthy one, but a marriage like that takes a tremendous amount of maintenance. Like every flight attendant will tell you: put on your oxygen mask before putting one on your child.

Do you agree or disagree that the marriage should come first?

Candy Love photo by D. Sharon Pruitt via Flickr

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Nina is a columnist at The HerStories Project and a contributing writer at Kveller.com and Greatnewbooks.org. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward and have been syndicated in Jewish newspapers across the country. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines, and she loved participating in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother. Nina is a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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62 Responses to A “Marriage First” Household
  1. Pop
    February 14, 2012 | 8:24 am

    This is such a good reminder, Nina! I’m particularly struggling with #2 lately (ummm, your list, not constipation) since I’m constantly checking my smart phone. But I agree that marriage should come first. After all, my kids will be out of the home when they’re older (I hope) and it’d be nice to know who the lady I now find myself living alone with is.

    • Nina Badzin
      February 14, 2012 | 5:49 pm

      Perfectly stated! Even the #2 comment. (LOL) Saw you have a post checking-in this week . . . will check it out for sure.

  2. Lisa Mayers
    February 14, 2012 | 8:28 am

    Amen sister! You got it exactly right. If we’d spent as much time devoted to the success of the marriage as we do to the success of the wedding, we’d have much happier marriages across the country. Marriage is work. It takes time and energy to keep a relationship fun, exciting and interesting. I attended a program last week led by Rabbi and Ruchi Koval on this exact subject. You hit it exactly right, Nina.

    • Nina Badzin
      February 14, 2012 | 5:50 pm

      I love Ruchi! I’d love to take a class with her. Do you know Ruchi and I are totally internet buddies?

  3. I Choose Happy Now
    February 14, 2012 | 8:44 am

    Hi! I found you from “My New Favorite Day”. I agree about making your marriage come first. In our house there is a saying, “A happy wife is a happy life.”. When my husband and I find time for each other we make ourselves and the kids happy.


    • Nina Badzin
      February 14, 2012 | 5:51 pm

      Somebody needs to needlepoint that in a pillow for me! I love it! Thanks for visiting from Shannon’s blog. Looking forward to checking you out. The idea of “I choose happy” is 100% up my alley.

  4. trowbridgemarvin1949
    February 14, 2012 | 8:45 am

    I am a life coach that has been happily married for 42 years and still loving every minute. Interesting enough I have recently had some education that helps me to understand how and why my marriage has been successful link: http://wp.me/2cPNL

  5. Jennifer K
    February 14, 2012 | 9:47 am

    I agree completely. Your marriage should come first-right after our friendship.

  6. Hilary LeveyFriedman (@hleveyfriedman)
    February 14, 2012 | 9:50 am

    This also makes me think of the new book on how the French raise kids. We all need adult time!

    • Nina Badzin
      February 14, 2012 | 5:52 pm

      Yes–that book is on my TBR list.

  7. Joanna
    February 14, 2012 | 10:22 am

    I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Selena
    February 14, 2012 | 10:25 am

    Yes!!! A strong, united marriage makes a happy family. I have two small children so it’s really hard to find time to get out of the house and have a “Date Night”. Every night we have our own little date night. Kids are in bed by 7:30pm and the rest of the night is just for the two of us.
    On Friday night we have what I call “Super Shabbat Date Night”. After putting the kids to bed we share a little romantic dinner together, a nice glass of wine and spend the evening talking and chilling. I know this will change as the kids get older and able to sit through a Shabbat dinner but for now I’m totally savouring it. 😉
    Love your list! (especially #6 & #7)

  9. julie gardner
    February 14, 2012 | 10:54 am

    I agree with (and try to implement) every single one of these, Nina.

    In fact, Bill is home today but must work tonight. So we are about to drop the kids at school and then enjoy the peace of a quiet, empty house (as befits Valentine’s Day).

    He is my best friend, and the greatest gift I can give my children (by far!) is the nurturing of our marriage.

  10. brendamarroy
    February 14, 2012 | 11:05 am

    I totally agree Nina. My husband and I are very blessed because we are each others’ valentine all year. Thanks for some great tips.

  11. Jackie Cangro
    February 14, 2012 | 11:07 am

    Well said, Nina!
    I don’t have kids, but I can see the way that the daily grind really wears on my friends until they feel like roommates instead of a couple. It’s possible that I even see it more clearly than they do having the advantage of distance and perspective.

    I love that you found a way to slip in a quote from Downton Abbey!

  12. Ann
    February 14, 2012 | 11:47 am

    Having just married off our youngest child Nina, I can tell you that all your points are very valid and important.
    Make the most of the time when you have control over your children’s activities and bedtime because when you have a house full of teenagers life is totally different.
    However now they are all constantly ringing to check that we’re OK alone ( yes thanks we’re doing fine) making sure we never spend Shabbat alone ( actually we’d be happy to have a quiet one but they never let us !) and generally enjoying our freedom from other people’s time schedules and food likes and dislikes.

    You aren’t really putting your marriage first i.e. before your children, because by strengthening your marriage you’re strengthening the whole family.

    • Nina Badzin
      February 15, 2012 | 11:00 am

      That’s really sweet how the kids worry about you guys! I love what you said at the end of this comment. That’s exactly how I feel.

  13. Lisa Pierson Weinberger
    February 14, 2012 | 12:24 pm

    My parents are getting divorced after 40 years of what seemed like a very happy marriage. I truly believe that they stopped putting in the effort that marriages require and, as a result, stopped growing together. It has been an enormous lesson for me to see that no marriage is ever strong enough — or long enough — that it doesn’t need to be nurtured.

    • Nina Badzin
      February 15, 2012 | 1:17 pm

      Wow– after 40 years. I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m sure that will be a major adjustment for your entire family in terms of holidays, the grandchildren, etc. You’re so right about the nuture thing . . . important at every stage.

  14. Juju @ Tales of Whimsy.com
    February 14, 2012 | 1:09 pm

    Oh wow. I love it. And as a new mom, I can use these reminders and pieces of advice. I love the turning off idea. AMEN on the lock. I fully intend to do that. Couple friends? We need that! This was great. I’m passing it on to my hubby.

  15. Julia Munroe Martin
    February 14, 2012 | 1:23 pm

    I agree this is so important — and I feel so lucky that it’s always been such a given for us. I can remember after our son was born (our first), looking up after 3 weeks and thinking: “when was the last time I talked to and laughed with my husband?” (we laugh and talk a lot together) Then and there we made it a point of spending as much time together as possible and it’s stuck to this day (our kids are in college). I especially agree with the celebration part — often when things get busy, your husband/spouse may be the *only* adult person you have time to spend time with and it should be fun!!

  16. Pamela Greenberg
    February 14, 2012 | 2:11 pm

    Sound insight, yet again…
    How did you get to be so wise?

  17. Colline
    February 14, 2012 | 2:22 pm

    Something else to add to your list: communication. In spite of a busy and hectic schedule, it is important to take the time to have real conversations. Conversations in which you speak about things that are important to you as individuals, as a couple, as a family. Our dreams and hopes develop as we get older, and it is important to share these with our spouse. To do this, one does not have to go out on a ‘date’. I have found this can be done talking on the couch while having a cup of tea together.

  18. Cynthia Robertson
    February 14, 2012 | 2:55 pm

    This is such a great post, Nina. And I totally agree with you…the marriage should come first. A lot of people make the mistake of forgetting why they got married in the first place, after they have that first child. Not a good thing. Every one of your headings in this post is spot on. Love the quote too…marriage is a long thing, if we’re lucky 😉

  19. Andrea Kasper
    February 14, 2012 | 3:55 pm

    Hear Hear, Jacob and I have to do this in a big way and I totally agree with everything you wrote.

  20. Jay- The Dude of the House
    February 14, 2012 | 4:43 pm

    #2 is a tough one for us, thanks to Zynga. Words With Friends is like crack to me and my wife is hooked on their Zoo game, which she says is for our son to learn about animals (which he has). The sad thing is these games are so trivial, yet they are hard to put down.

  21. ramblingsfromtheleft
    February 14, 2012 | 5:29 pm

    I agree, I agree. Always. First comes love, then comes marriage … then you push the darn kids around for about twenty years, they finally find a job, or get married or at least leave to live somewhere else and only come home for food, laundry and a loan. Enjoy each other while whenever you can and however you can :)

  22. Melissa Crytzer Fry
    February 14, 2012 | 6:06 pm

    What an important post, Nina -even for those of us who have kids of only the furry variety. Communication is so important — and so is the effort it takes to make ANY relationship work. Auto pilot just doesn’t work. Hope you had a great Valentine’s Day ;-). Hubby bought me the movie Bridesmaids (which I thought was hilarious and he hasn’t seen … so, hmm… was it for me or him?) It will be good to share some laughs!

  23. Dawn
    February 14, 2012 | 9:51 pm

    I love this! Such great, sage advice – I especially like rule #5. I hadn’t really thought about it, but you’re right about seeing your spouse’s true personality again through your friends. Good stuff.

  24. ruchi koval
    February 14, 2012 | 10:32 pm

    Was just gonna comment “yes! Exactly!” and decided to read thru the comments – how fun to find my name here :)
    Actually, Lisa, you obliviously introduced me to Nina thru -of all people- Laura Simon. She forwarded me the flyer from when Nina came to Cleveland, and I was intrigued by the topic. I googled her, found her blog, and…yeah!
    so thanks :)
    And yeah Nina – how *did* u get so wise?

    • Nina Badzin
      February 15, 2012 | 1:58 pm

      I didn’t even realize that’s how we’d met (though the flyer, etc) Well, we’re good friendship match! As for wisdom–HARDLY! Opinionated? Yes! 😉

  25. Katie
    February 15, 2012 | 4:02 am

    Hi Nina,
    I think this is a great post. My church usually has home groups on Tuesday nights but they were cancelled this week so that couples could spend time together on Valentines day. Some people probably think this is the church bowing to what they see as a holiday created by capitalism but it’s actually about your 8th point- taking every opportunity to show treat your loved one. I’m not married yet (I’m engaged-eeek!) but I already realise the importance of all the things you’ve written about. I’m going to focus on making more of an effort with our couple friends I think, they kind of get neglected because it’s easier to get one person than two to find a gap that matches with the gap in your diary too.

    My only addition would be, get to know your partner’s love language. As you mentioned it means a lot to you that your partner cleans the kitchen after your sabbath dinner but you don’t buy gifts for each other. For some couples, words of affirmation or buying a bunch of flowers might mean more, each couple is different. That’s one lesson I’ve learned from the couples I know, what means a lot to you might not be the way your partner feels loved. For example, my partner needs words of affirmation and cuddles to feel loved, which I obviously also want, but like you, it means a lot to me if my partner makes an effort to keep the house tidy (we live together) and feel it’s disrespectful to me if he thinks it’s ok to make a mess and leave it- he wouldn’t see it like that if I did that though. And, your partner can’t learn your love language unless you tell him so make sure they know before it gets to the stage where you’re having a tearful argument because you think they don’t care.

    Katie xx

    • Nina Badzin
      February 15, 2012 | 2:05 pm

      VERY good points, Kate. Another perfect example is celebrating things like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day/Father’s Day. It doesn’t matter if one person in the couple thinks it’s all Hallmark, etc. If the other person values it, you celebrate! To me that’s one of the “should be easy” pick your battles things. It’s hard to defend the choice to argue for NOT celebrating your spouse. 😉

      Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

      • Sarah Baughman
        February 17, 2012 | 2:04 pm

        I agree with this post and also with Katie on the love languages. My husband and I read that book together a few years back and it really did made a difference for us. It’s pretty easy for us now to recognize what specific action would make the other feel loved. And yes, as much as our kids have enhanced our lives, before they were around, WE were, and once they fly the coop, it’ll be just the two of us again. Best to keep that relationship healthy!

    • ruthsaves
      March 2, 2012 | 10:18 am

      We read The Five Love Languages and we recently read through “Weird because normal isn’t working”. Nina, your article falls right in line with the Weird book (lol). I love it! Confirmation is a great thing :o) I’m a young momma and my relationship with Tracy is my number one focus because he’s my partner in raising our children. A happy poppa (not just momma) makes a great relationship and it’s been great for our kids too. Katie, we also attend a Bible study together and it makes all the difference in our home. When we met we didn’t attend a study or a church and since joining our church and starting to attend the study things are 100% better. We’re focusing on US and not the problems in the world or the babies… God first and our relationship is aligned well now. We’re on the same page in the same book (big change) and the time together has been really good for our whole family :o)

  26. Kara Thom
    February 15, 2012 | 7:39 am

    100% agree with everything here! There was something in the paper yesterday I found lovely–not sure who I’m quoting, but it said that a good marriage isn’t based on falling in love, it’s about staying in love.

  27. Annie Neugebauer
    February 15, 2012 | 12:48 pm

    What a great post, and good for you for having the guts to tell it like it is! I don’t even have kids yet and I can feel the truth of this. In fact, I think a “marriage first” household holds true for couples without children, too. So many things get in the way of primary relationships: careers, hobbies, friends, family, etc. Making the conscious effort to prioritize is the best way to keep a marriage strong. I especially like #5; that’s a really good point that we put on our best faces for others, and that it’s important to see each other that way, too.

  28. Stacy S. Jensen (@StacySJensen)
    February 15, 2012 | 3:55 pm

    Great post Nina. A great reminder to talk to my MOPS friends about a babysitting co-op, so we can go on date night. :)

  29. Lindsey
    February 15, 2012 | 5:33 pm

    I could NOT agree with this more. Absolutely true and wise and all too rare. I can’t tell you how many couples I know who are basically staying together just for the kids and I find that sad. I’m certain the children absorb what they see and for me at least that’s not the kind of marriage I want to model. xox

  30. Lara Schiffbauer
    February 15, 2012 | 6:16 pm

    So, so true. The hardest thing for me is couple dating. Trying to find a couple compatible with each of us is a tall order! Also, we don’t go out much, but late Friday nights we will do something together, like putting together puzzles, watch a movie, play video games, play word games, etc… It seems to work, so far!

  31. Cathy Ballou Mealey
    February 16, 2012 | 9:00 am

    You had my fill attention as soon as you quoted Violet. She is marvelous!

  32. Jamie Walker (@chosenchaos)
    February 16, 2012 | 8:16 pm

    Coming here from Shannon’s place!

    This is exactly how my husband and I approach our marriage too. We know and believe that the most important thing we can do for our family and our children is to love each other. It’s not always easy but it’s always right!

  33. Hallie Sawyer
    February 16, 2012 | 8:16 pm

    My husband is actually great about nurturing our relationship. I recently did a little reflecting and realized I was totally slacking. He has initiated date night, rented movies for us to watch, and buys me random gifts just because. I have been a little obsessed with all things writing and reading lately that I haven’t been as giving as I should.

    I have been taking this parenting workshop by a local mom and she reinforces all the points you stated above. One of the best sayings she has is “live the life you want your kids to live”. I want my kids to see two parents in a generous, fun, active, and loving relationship. We are our kids’ most important role models.

    Great advice!

  34. Sachin Mehta
    February 17, 2012 | 8:26 am

    Totally agree with the essay Nina! Very well written. It’s so easy to forget about your mate during the daily grind of family life. Hope you all are well!

  35. Rivki
    February 17, 2012 | 9:09 am

    Love. Love love love this. Seeing my parents reconnect to their relationship now that my brother and I have flown the coop has been downright inspirational, and has helped me focus on focusing on my marriage. We even try not to talk about the kids (too much) when we’re on a date. And we try to talk a little every day, which can be a challenge with my husbands schedule, but so worth it.

  36. Roni Loreni
    February 17, 2012 | 3:41 pm

    Love this. I’m a big believer in this concept. My parents modeled it for me growing up. They did things on occasion just for them and even went on parent-only vacations once a year. It was a good example to set. I think that’s one of the reasons why my husband and I waited until 6 years into our marriage before having a child. Now I follow that same “marriage first” concept at home. My son has some special needs and can be all-consuming at times, but my husband and I make a point to schedule couple time. Happy parents make happy kids. Taking care of our relationship is just as big a gift to him as anything else.

    • Roni Loren
      February 17, 2012 | 3:42 pm

      Hmm, can’t seem to even spell my name right today, lol. Thank goodness it’s Friday.

  37. StoriesAndSweetPotatoes
    February 20, 2012 | 9:51 pm

    Great post. I so agree that marriage comes first. It’s sort of like how YOU need to come first before you can have a healthy relationship. A healthy marriage will produce healthy children…hopefully :) My parent’s have a wonderful marriage and so often if people are even still together they don’t seem that happy. My parents are very much in love and I know I won’t settle for anything less than real happiness.

  38. Jolina Petersheim
    February 20, 2012 | 9:53 pm

    Wonderful tips for these parents-to-be, Nina! Randy, my husband, and I bought a breast pump mainly just so our baby girl can go to grandma’s house and we can keep up our weekly date night. : )

  39. Sheila
    February 24, 2012 | 3:25 pm

    Another good one is to go out on date nights (though we haven’t done that in a while)! But it’s fun to take turns planning the dates. Then a lot of times it would end up being a surprise – which was really fun.

  40. Shannon Pruitt from 'Mynewfavoriteday'
    February 27, 2012 | 7:48 pm

    Love this Nina. It’s so true and important to nurture your relationship. Before people know it they can shift to the place of “what happened” and “we never talk anymore.” You said it when the kids will benefit from a loving relationship by their parents as it is afterall, where they learn about what will be their most important relationship!

  41. […] A “Marriage First” Household (ninabadzin.com) […]

  42. Diana
    March 1, 2012 | 12:46 pm

    Great advice! Thanks.

  43. LindseyJoy
    March 1, 2012 | 7:25 pm

    so happy to have found your blog on “freshly pressed” today – I completely agree with this post & look forward to catching up on more of your stuff soon! happy writing! :)

  44. Bonnie Way
    March 8, 2012 | 5:13 pm

    Great advice – thank you. I’ve been coming to realize how we need to be deliberate about finding time to spend with our spouses. As you say, we have to run off distractions, lock the door, put the kids to bed – whatever it takes to put marriage first. Thanks for sharing your tips. :)

  45. […] writing voice right away. She explained Why She Might (Or Might Not) Follow Me On Twitter and  Why Marriage Needs To Come Before The Kids. She even told me about Why I Needed To Eat Her Grandma Suzie’s Brownies. So my cyber-crush […]

  46. Andrea
    August 21, 2012 | 6:08 pm

    So, had to come back to this post because it came up dinner the other night. We have a baby gate up in the kitchen, mostly to separate our dog from Lazer’s food dropping, but honestly it comes in handy when the kids are done eating, are excused and we are not yet finished. We send them out! Jacob laughed, Bryan and Nina use a lock on their door, we use one for the kitchen:) thought you would enjoy.

  47. gabi patel
    September 5, 2013 | 12:55 pm

    YOU SAID IT!!!! :) preach it sister! yes i believe in the hierarchy of the parents first!!

  48. Dana
    March 20, 2014 | 7:08 am

    I completely agree with you, Nina. I don’t feel guilty about taking time away from my kids to spend with my husband. In addition to nourishing our relationship as a couple, it revitalizes us and makes us better parents when we are with our kids. I’m reminded of a quote I’ve seen…”The best thing a father can do for his children is love their mother.” The same applies for a mother, too.
    Dana recently posted..It’s not a man purse – it’s called a satchelMy Profile

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