I’ll always remember (sometimes with a tinge of jealousy) the early years of our marriage. When Heather and I first got married, we had a pretty sweet setup. We both were teachers so our schedules were the same, we had dependable incomes, no debt, affordable bills, and were able to go to the dollar theater for 50 cent matinees. Life was pretty great and many times I look back to that season of our life and I miss it. On many occasions, I would go into my music room and play for hours while Heather worked on her crafts and when we finally sat down to dinner I’d realize we hadn’t seen each other all day and we’d laugh about it asking each other ‘How was your day?’
Fast forward 12.5 years; now we have two beautiful kiddos and all the life things that come along with it. Gymnastics twice a week (including competitions and meetings), school meetings (since I’m now an Assistant Principal), homework, college savings, bills, I’m also an Army Chaplain so I’m gone a lot helping soldiers, clothing to put on growing children, meal planning, more bills, doctor’s appointments, school projects, outside playtime, educational family trips, reading time with the kiddos, SUVs, even more bills, and so on and so forth. It seems like every day is an adventure but one that is full to the brim with events, struggles, constantly cleaning the house, and tons of joy being the stewards of the children God gave us.
Life is radically different now than it was when we first started out on this journey of marriage. We don’t get that free time nor do we get that time together we used to have. It can be very easy to focus on the joys and struggles of being a parent and then crashing each night with exhaustion from a full day of being a parent as well as all the other life responsibilities. With that in mind, the ability to focus on your spouse can very easily disappear when you move past the honeymoon phases and into the long term commitment phase (see Duncan, S. F., Childs, G. R., & Larson, J. H. (2010). Perceived helpfulness of four different types of marriage preparation interventions. Family Relations, 59, 623–636.)
I would never trade my precious children and the family life we now have. However, there are many times when I wish things were simpler and I could focus so much more of my attention on Heather. Life is sometimes messy, busy, hectic, and exhausting. Yet, if we fail to have a biblical mindset in regard to my family then we could quickly slip into the quicksand of disillusionment and eventual despair concerning who we are and what life means to us. In my experiences counseling couples who are on the brink of divorce they often cite this struggle as a reason for their seeking divorce. They spend so much time pouring into their children that when their children are grown and gone they do not know the person sitting on the other end of the dinner table any longer.
On social media as well as in popular conversations I hear people often refer to their children as their #1 priority. They say that nothing comes before their children and that their life is wrapped up in theirs. This has a wonderful sentiment but it is rife with traps and pitfalls. God organized marriage and family to be organized with a vastly different system of priorities. Consider what Paul had to say to the church community in Ephesus concerning this idea:
 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church.  As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her  to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.  He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.  In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself.  No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.  And we are members of his body.
 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”  This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.  So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33 NLT)
Here we see the umbrella of authority that God has organized and set for Christian families to follow. Do you notice anything that may be missing? That’s right, there is no mention of children in this portion of the passage (though there is later on in chapter 6 concerning how children should obey their parents). In this entire section there is no mention of how the husband and wife should focus on their children rather than their spouse. Yet, our culture cries out for parents to put their children first at the expense of their marriages. This, more often than we would like to admit, leads to a marriage that is empty and has no knowledge of who the other person is.
So how do we do this? How do we follow the organizational structure God sets in the Bible and still be good parents? The trick to this is balance. Children are blessings and God gives parents the divine responsibility of stewarding their lives and shepherding their growth into adulthood. Yet, the way to be the best parent is to be the best spouse you can be. While it is simple, it is not easy. Wives, respect your husbands. Husbands, love your wife sacrificially by placing her 2nd only to God.
What does this look like? Every marriage is different but I will share what we have found works for us and keeps us in harmony the majority of the time:
- Set God as First Priority: Do your quiet time/devotionals daily, seek God in prayer continually, be plugged in to your church community weekly, listen to the teaching of biblically oriented pastors, do your own deep Bible studies, and seek the spiritual disciplines. When your spiritual life is on point then everything else will fall into place in your life.
- Have a Biblical Perspective of your Spouse: Do not fall into the trap of making your spouse an idol. They are imperfect and will fail you from time to time. They will make mistakes and hurt your heart. Yet, God calls you and me to place them as a sacred treasure in our lives above all other things except God. This is when love becomes a choice and not an emotion.
- Show Your Children How to be a Good Spouse: Your children will learn how to be a husband/wife from your example. I often ask myself, ‘Am I the type of man I want my daughters to marry?’ So many times I fail this test. Yet, it is the standard studies show we base our life desires for marriage off of. We seek after a spouse that has the qualities our parents have (on the majority). I can set my children and myself up for success by loving my spouse in a godly manner.
- Invest in Your Marriage: Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our hearts are (cf. Matthew 6:21 NLT). If you were to look at your monthly expenses, would it say that your heart is where your spouse is? Do you go on weekly dates? Do you buy him/her gifts? Do you take trips together? While God is our number one priority, our spouse deserves our time, talents, and treasure as well.
- Speak Your Spouse’s Love Language: Gary Chapman is famous for his books on the 5 Love Languages. Heather’s is words of affirmation and acts of service while mine is physical touch. If I do not, on purpose, speak her love language then she will eventually have an empty “love tank” and will have to find that fulfillment in other areas of her life (i.e. – her children). This is why, in my experience, spouses feel so empty when the children move out; they have had their love tanks filled by their children and do not know how to get that love from their spouse.
What does this look like for you? I couldn’t tell you without knowing your individual situation. For us, it means going out of our way to love our spouse sacrificially. It means I do the dishes and clean the house even when I’m exhausted at the end of the day. It means Heather snuggles next to me on the couch when her rocking chair is much more comfortable. It means doing weekly date nights and paying for baby-sitters so that we can get quality time just the two of us. It means a kiss on the cheek in the car or a sweet note by the bedside. It means thinking outside of the box to do something new and different to keep feeding the fire of our marriage year after year after year.
Whatever the investment is, you need to make it. You (and I) need to continually seek after our spouses like we did when we were first dating. We need to learn about them and look for ways big and small that say ‘I love you’ to the one we have committed to spend the rest of our lives serving. When this happens your marriage will become a blessing instead of a burden, an opportunity rather than an obstacle, and a comfort rather than a conflict. Your marriage will always be an investment that pays huge dividends.