Let Your Spousal Love Grow

couple on beachThis past summer, after nearly 16 years of marriage, my husband and I took our first bona-fide, airline-ticket “weekend away.”

As you might imagine, it was quite a logistical undertaking for a family with four children. More than once I questioned whether we were being selfish for doing it at all.

But something happened that weekend. My husband and I became honeymooners again — but honeymooners with maturity and a security in our relationship that we didn’t have the first time around. As we relaxed into the role of lovers, something I had known for a long time crystallized for me: The most important relationship in a family is not the one between parents and children, but between husband and wife.

The first time I heard this statement, I bristled. I was 27 years old and deep in the throes of infertility. I couldn’t see how anything could be more important, more central, than the love of a parent for a child. Sure, my husband and I had a great relationship, but that just made us long all the more for the blessing we were waiting to receive, month after fruitless month.

I didn’t change my mind on that subject for quite a while after our first child came along. Our life revolved around him, and we were perfectly happy that way.

Eventually, though, I began to understand. We cooperate with God to bring children into our families, either biologically or by adoption, and with his help we raise them into holy manhood and womanhood. It’s a rich experience, and yet it is also the hardest work we will ever do. There are no vacation days, and the stakes are no less than all eternity. Yet for all the sweeping implications, most of the job consists of pesky little tasks: how many wet diapers, who has piano, who has swim time, who got their homework done and who did not, and is it bath night?

It’s so easy for a married couple, who entered the journey of parenthood as an expression of their love for each other, to find themselves living parallel lives, communicating primarily as business partners in the venture of child rearing. Soon, fractures appear. They start snapping at each other over toilet seats and toothpaste tubes, shoes on the floor and tissues on the table. If they don’t do something to shift perspective, those little irritations can easily become the only things they see.

What happens to that couple when the kids leave home? What happens when they get a chance to draw their first deep breath in 20 years, and they discover they’re living with an all-too-familiar stranger? Those are the questions I ask myself when I feel petty vexations taking over my marriage. And the desire never to have to answer them is what has led us to put our marriage first.

It takes self-discipline to keep a marriage at the center of family life, second only to the relationship with God. It takes turning off the electronics and devoting an evening or two a week to talking. It requires us to look for ways to bridge our divergent prayer styles. To set aside money and time we don’t really feel we can spare in order to go out at least once a month. It takes setting limits so the children know that sometimes, Mom and Dad need space to be friends and lovers. The kids may not understand until they become parents themselves, but they’ll feel the difference. When the parents are in sync, the family is happier. The kids are more secure.

So when your children ask why you’re leaving them for a date night – or even for a weekend away – just tell them: “Because it’s better for you if your parents like each other!”

Reprinted with permission from FathersForGood.org.

Kathleen M. Basi, a mother of four, writes an award-winning column for Liguorian magazine. She has published a trio of short nonfiction books for families, and her work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and NPR's “All Things Considered” show. Visit her online at kathleenbasi.com.