Couple walking in spring

Putting first things first—where are you on the list?

When I picture today’s mom, I see a woman juggling while riding a bicycle on a high-wire. Add the role of being a wife, and picture this same image, but with the high-wire suspended over a lion’s cage.

Motherhood today is anything but simple. I doubt I need to tell you that marriage is the same. Marriage will stretch you, test you, and frustrate you at times. It’s also a means to tremendous passion and adventure in life.

Research continually finds that married people live longer, experience more fulfillment, and have a more passionate and satisfying sex life. But all this doesn’t happen by chance.

There’s a popular belief that if you love each other enough, everything will just work out. The cynic Ambrose Bierce defines love as “a temporary insanity, curable by marriage.” The truth is – love is a mechanism that allows marriage to do what it is designed to do. Marriage is designed to grow you up.

Who’s the most important person to you?

Let’s switch gears for a moment. When it comes to your life, who is the most important person in the world to you? I ask this question to almost every couple I counsel. The answers I hear vary, and rarely is the answer the one I’m looking for.

Think about your answer for a moment – who comes to mind? Your spouse? One of your children? A parent? You may know where I’m going with this, and it’s fairly easy to say the right answer, but do you live as though it’s true in your life?

The answer – YOU. You are the most important person in the world to you.

Before I move on, let me torpedo a few of your initial rebuttals to this statement:

“If I view myself as the most important person then I’ll be selfish or arrogant.”

The simple truth is that nobody can take care of you better than you. Plus, if you don’t love yourself, how can you possibly offer love to anyone else? I assume you’ve heard the safety procedure on an airplane about putting on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others. This advice applies to marriage as well as parenting.

“Jesus tells us to serve others and put others first.”

Yes, He does say this – but He also said to treat others as we treat ourselves. If you are called to care for others, you need to be in good shape first. And if you follow His example, Jesus spent a great deal of time on His own, recharging and caring for His needs.

So how does taking care of yourself improve your marriage?

I’m glad you asked.

Marriage can’t be broken down in a few easy-to-follow steps. There are, however, some natural processes that occur in every marriage – and those can be harnessed in order to create more passion and adventure.

hands in the air
Photo by Ryan Ward

1. Choose to grow up.

The first process has already been mentioned – marriage is designed to grow us up. Marriage done right is a people-growing machine.

The natural tension in marriage is part of this growing-up process. Often, when things don’t go as you expect or hope, your natural reaction is to lash out or shut down – it’s the classic fight or flight. Growth happens when you recognize the daily opportunities that come with marriage and parenting. There are daily opportunities to grow up. Take care of yourself by choosing to embrace them. Don’t ignore them, and don’t resent. them. Go with them.

silhouette of a couple walking
Photo by Sono Tamaki

2. Meet your needs both for togetherness and separateness.

There are two fundamental life forces – a desire for togetherness and a desire for separateness. Everyone longs for connection with other people. We hang out with friends, talk with co-workers, cuddle with your children, check out the blogosphere, and get intimate with a spouse. Whatever it is, life is often better when it’s shared with others.

At the same time, we also want to chart our own course in life – to live by our own terms and follow our dreams.

You fluctuate back and forth between these two forces. You move towards the togetherness side of things, until those needs are met – and then you move to the separateness side. Whenever you get too close to another person, it’s common to create distance and separation in order to feel better. Two examples of how this works:

• You may want your spouse to be more emotionally open, but you interrupt him when he says things you find unpleasant (your perspective is just keeping the conversation “accurate”). You want a more expressive spouse, but you want to control what they express.

• You ask your spouse to take more responsibility for initiating sex, but you want to dictate when, where, how, and why sexual initiations should be made. You want a spouse who can think for themselves- and then you want to tell them what they should think!

Recognize this natural process in your marriage. Be honest about how your spouse can meet your need for togetherness, and find ways to meet this same need of his. At the same time, be honest about your need for separateness, and find healthy ways to meet it – without trampling on this same need of his. You can have differing opinions – separateness . But you can respect these polar opinions and choose to maturely listen to each other – togetherness. Your natural need for separateness doesn’t threaten your natural need for togetherness.

This push/pull between togetherness and separateness is just one of those universal truths about relationships. Once you recognize it, you’ll be better equipped to meet these needs, first in yourself, and as a result, in your marriage.

Recognize those opportunities your marriage hands you to develop your maturity, and then maturely find ways to meet both your needs for togetherness and separateness. You’ll take better care of yourself.

What does this look like in your marriage?

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Corey writes regularly about marriage and relationships on his site, Simple Marriage, which is full of laid back information sure to improve your relationships.You can also catch his radio show - Sexy Marriage Radio, a weekly show filled with straightforward and practical information that will help your marriage.

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  1. I totally agree! There was a time recently where I was struggling with a few things going on personally and it was amazing to see how it affected the relationship with my husband. I realized very quickly that when I was feeling down or out-of-sorts, my marriage suffered. It is so important to take care of ourselves and our marriage, not just one or the other.

    Tabitha (From Single to Married)´s last blog post…Going to the Dentist – Painful In More Ways Than One

  2. What a great article! I think it’s something we often don’t think about – taking care of ourselves. With so much emphasis on couple time and relationship building, it’s easy to forget ourselves. This is a great reminder to take care of ourselves too.

    Rhea – Experiencing Motherhood´s last blog post…Home Birth

  3. When I feel energized and good about myself it’s like my husband sees me all over again. Great post. Thanks 🙂

    Nicki at Domestic Cents´s last blog post…Menu Planning And Grocery Shopping

  4. i think many of us have believed the lie that putting our families and marriages first means we need to suffer. i didn’t figure out that this was not true until i was living in a new city with a newborn baby in a new house trying to make new friends and sinking ever deeper into the pits of depression. one day i looked at my husband and said “i need to go to the doctor. i can’t do this any longer.”

    it was one of the best, most grown-up decisions i have ever made. i finally put myself in a place of importance, took care of myself, spiritually, physically and emotionally. the best part was how my husband responded – he was *proud* of me for doing what i did. he is still proud when i continue to make those choices – because it makes me a better woman, a better wife, a better mother.

    we recently decided that after 10 years of marriage it was time for a tune up! we attended a Family Life marriage weekend conference and it was the best thing we’ve ever done. that time away from the everyday grind allowed us both to focus on ourselves and each other.

    Krista´s last blog post…Montreal-bound

  5. These are great insights and helpful reminders. For us, it’s sometimes helpful to ask one another where we are in terms of needs being met. Sometimes, there’s not a lot we can do about some of those unmet needs-that’s the growing up part I guess with 2 little ones and our stage of life. But sometimes, there are a few tweaks and changes we can make to meet the others’ needs. We just have to remember to talk things through instead of just hanging on until one of us breaks.

    I’m blogging about learning from God through marriage and family at

  6. There are some great ideas and thoughts in this post to think about. Making time for your spouse, without your children involved, can be tough, especially when they are little. But I have found that is when I need to do it most, because children are so emotionally and physically exhausting sometime, especially when they are very little (but wonderful too!)

    Taylor at Household Management 101´s last blog post…Feb 3, 7 Laundry Stain Removal Tips For Families With Children

  7. Fantastic post, Corey! Great reflections to consider when we get stuck in repeating patterns…Thank you!

    Lisa Byrne´s last blog post…Love Letters to Your Children

  8. I recently learned the hard lesson of how difficult it is to care for others from a position of weakness. Five months ago my mom suffered a cerebral aneurysm and subsequent stroke at 53 years young. She nearly died, and was hospitalized for 102 days. She is now wheelchair-bound and my wife and I care for her. At the time of her illness we were both out of shape physically, financially and emotionally, and it made the role of caretaker much more difficult. We’ve since made improvements on all fronts and have grown closer from this experience. It is a lesson learned at 31 that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

  9. I really really needed this today, thank you!!

  10. I am not married, but I am in a committed relationship (with 3 kids!) and all these words ring true to my situation. I have had a hard time with growing up and putting myself first, specifically.

    The growing up part, I am assuming, is hard for anyone who finds their partner and has kids young. Maybe it’s hard when you wait longer too? I know for me most of my friends do not have the responsibilities I do, and sometimes I get resentful of that.

    I end up resentful because I rarely put myself first, which means I usually miss out on doing things with my friends. I have been trying to learn to take better care of myself but it isn’t easy! Thanks for giving me something to think about!

  11. Wow, what a great article. We are going on our 6th year of marriage, and this last year has been trying at times. I definitely notice a difference in our relationship when we don’t make time for one another, or allow or priorities to get out of whack.

    Great reminder, thanks!

    Angie @ The Creative Mama´s last blog post…decorating: outside the box.

  12. Yes! I see that my marriage works so well because we both maintain a degree of separateness, together. We encourage each other to do our own thing (friends, hobbies, etc) but we come together to talk about and learn from them and then I see those separate experiences come alive in our marriage. However, this is what works for our personalities, both as individuals and our personality as a couple.

    Betsy´s last blog post…Found

  13. Great post! I love what you said about the separateness. It’s funny how we can sometimes expect our spouse to react like we would, or think like we would, or do things like we would. We expect them to be us.

    Differences can be what help strengthen the marriage. Their different perspective, their strengths in areas where you are weak (and vice versa), their viewpoint that see a whole other side. All of this can help you grow as a person as you learn to think outside of yourself.

    momstheword´s last blog post…WHERE ARE YOU GETTING YOUR SELF-ESTEEM?

  14. The point about “treating others as you treat yourself” is so important. One of my religion professors pointed that out to me in college. Jesus called us to love ourselves AND others. You can do that without being selfish by having confidence and treating yourself with respect.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    tara g´s last blog post…Special Event: From Philly With Love

  15. Corey, I couldn’t agree with you more. I have listened to friends who are having a tough time in their marriage and always ask the question…what do you do to make YOU happy? Sad when a blank stare is the response. I LOVE having my separate interests, hobbies, and talents, and equally love that my husband has a set of interests that don’t include me. Having something new to talk about is part of what keep the flames burning!

  16. All too often I’m put last on the list. But, now when bedtime rolls around at 8:00 I spend that time until it is my bedtime doing things I enjoy. Like reading a book or magazine. Not worrying about the laundry, the dishes etc.

    It is hard to put oneself first….but…..if we don’t then how will that affect our children or spouses.

    SoBella Creations´s last blog post…Cupcake Extravaganza

  17. Beautifully written and expressed, Corey. Thank you for this reminder and challenge.

    Aimee´s last blog post…An Indian Film, A New Spice Blend and a Giveaway

  18. Great article!

    I think especially as a mom it’s super easy to always put others ahead of ourselves, until we’re just about ready to crack!

    Hubs is great about noticing when I really need to STOP and take care of myself. He’s often the one pushing me out the door for some alone time, convincing me that I need Me time.

    I realize that it’s not his job to do that, but it certainly helps to have someone around who notices that I need Me time before I do! And who is supportive of that. I have friends who’s husbands aren’t so supportive.

    MommyAmy´s last blog post…Way Back When-endsday

  19. There are times when I know I need to take a second look at my priorities. Thanks for this deeper look into marriage.

    Cara´s last blog post…Upcycling is the new recycling

  20. Great post, and dead on! My husband and I have almost been married two years and had some really hard times thrown at us due to some of his family situations. In the end we got through it and we came out the other end stronger and closer.

  21. I just heard something that stuck home to me.
    Marriage is not “Give and Take.” Marriage is “Give, Give, Give, and Receive.

    Kathy – Insightful Nana´s last blog post…How To Determine Your Moon Sign

  22. This is an extremely helpful and timely post for me as all 4 horsemen have been running rampant in my marriage since day 1. I’m now at the point where I’m realizing the importance of taking care of myself especially with an emotionally and physically unavaible spouse.

    LaToya @ Christian Momma´s last blog post…The “Good Baby” Fallacy

  23. I really really needed to read this, the timing is so great I almost cried. My procrastination problems were taking a huge toll on my relationship (like others, I’m not married, but I’m in a commited relationship). I was in a very bad mood most of the time, I felt bad about myself, I felt like I didn’t deserve to have some good free time, and all that basically saddened and alienated my SO. Last night after reading this post and a few chapters of a book someone gave me I sat down and spent about an hour thinking about me, my problems and why are they there, and what can I do to solve them. I think I know now the source of my procrastination problem, which means I can work on it, which means that by tackling my personal problem I’ll relief a huge pressure on my relationship.

    Gracia´s last blog post…Life is a Laugh

  24. Sometimes we get so caught up in carrying for others that we forget about ourselves. Great article to remind me to put aside some time for myself to rejuvinate myself.

    Dominique´s last blog post…Conquering an Angry Child-Mealtime battles

  25. What a great article. I was previously married and am now in a committed relationship. Fantastic to read!

    BlapherMJ´s last blog post…Thursdays Thoughts

  26. I am a first time visitor to your blog. I came across it on Blog Catalog today when I was doing some research for one of my own posts.

    Truthfully, I come across a lot of blogs, but this one really caught my eye and this post was incredibly powerful. I just read a number of your previous posts too. But this one really made me take the time to reflect.

    Thank you and I will visit back for sure.

    a.k.a. The Constant Complainer
    Cleveland, OH

    The Constant Complainer´s last blog post…Utter Negligence

  27. This post is so insightful! I like your advice and I think you are so right about having to love yourself before loving others.

  28. I absolutely love that article. My husband and I are always reminding each other that the best gift we could ever give our boys is to keep our family together. Great great great article!

    Sarah´s last blog post…Mommy time

  29. This is so true. When I started to enact boundaries in my relationship, great things happened. I was able to allow myself to do things that I wanted instead of putting them off until later to be with my boyfriend and then feeling a bit spiteful if we didn’t have the perfect night. We allow each other space now and boy, it’s a relief!

  30. lorena casio says:

    as a student we no that study s the most mportant in our lives.because some times we know that.

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