The Marriage is Not the Most Important Relationship in a Family

“The marriage is the most important part of the family”. I used to buy into this. I’ve changed my mind though. The marriage is not the most important relationship in a family.

The Marriage is Not the Most Important Part of the Relationship by Jennifer Andersen

The Marriage is Not the Most Important Part of the Relationship by Jennifer Andersen

The family is the most important relationship in any family. It has been my experience that when we don’t elevate one relationship above another, things are more relaxed. We can go with what feels right, and with what works for everybody , rather than striving for an expectation placed on us by others.

This does not mean that it is not beneficial and important for parents to be happy separately and together. It means that happiness, stability, and strong mental health comes from prioritizing the family relationship, instead of just two of the people in it.

Over and over again, we are told that grownups are more important than kids.  Our needs come first.

What if we shifted things though?  What if we focused on meeting the needs of our family?  Would things lighten up?  Would life become easier?  What if we lived by consensus, instead of dictatorship?  What if when one person- any one person- in our family is in need of something, we help them to get it?  What would happen?

Maybe our children would learn what it meant to identify, voice, and fulfill the needs of themselves and others.  Maybe they would relax into trusting that everyone is equally important, and that they do not need to fight to be seen or heard.  If children’s needs are as important as their adult counterparts, they might not grow up with a chip on their shoulder, or with a sense of entitlement.

Many do not think so.  Many believe that children need to be whipped into shape- either literally with a belt or hand, or in a less tangible way by being left to cry, and having their powers stripped of them.

By prioritizing the importance of two specific people in a family, we may be sending a message to our children that they are not as important, that they matter less.

Imagine though, what it is like for a child to feel equally valuable… that her voice, thoughts, feeling, and preferences are given equal consideration. Would they flourish?  Would they connect with themselves more deeply- and therefore with others more deeply, too? Would they develop a sense of security so strong that they could not be bullied, and would have no desire to bully?

Many will comment that a parent cannot give until their own tank is full.  They will remind us that if a marriage fails, so does the family.  They will say that if we lose sight of the marriage, there is no hope for the family.

Nobody is disagreeing.  Parents are part of the family, too.

Adopting this mentality does not mean making our own needs less important.  It means seeing our family differently, and acknowledging that all involved are people- no one more important than the other.  It means modeling for our children the very things we want them to know; that they are no better, or less deserving than anyone else, and that they are capable of helping themselves, and others, to get what each of them needs.

It is a different way of thinking for many, but like each member of a family, it is worth consideration.

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  1. I love this! I always thought the “marriage first” stuff sounded like making sure to limit the importance of the kids or making sure they don’t get “too much” of your attention. This seems to go hand in hand with “spoiling the baby” philosophies, which, ugh! Taking care of people doesn’t spoil them. Doubly so for the newest and smallest amongst us! As a polyamorous person, I have a lot of experience in relationships with more than two people. It was kind of funny when I realized the things I had learned from polyamory applied to parenting. When my son was an infant, not only did I not put my relationship with his father “first”, I purposely put it on the backburner. I wrote about that here: When I focused on the needs of myself vs my partner vs my baby, it was so clear that my baby needed me the most at that time. Honoring myself, my partner, and our relationship meant focusing all my attention on our baby.

  2. Excellent! Thanks for putting that together. I especially like the word consensus. More and more I realize how going for consensus rather than compromise sets us up for multiple wins and no losses. So often, it is not either or, but something completely different, something that takes account of everything in a respectful way.

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