What Your Kids Will Learn When You Prioritize Your Marriage

by February, Love and Relationships, Marriage

Growing up, I always thought I had a solid family unit. My parents were youth leaders in our small Methodist church and my Dad was a fireman/paramedic in our small town. We were just a normal and faithful family. This is why I was shocked when, as a 19-year-old young woman just beginning to navigate the world, my parents sat me down and told me they were getting a divorce. Those words shook the foundation on which my entire life had been built. It took years for me to process all that had happened, but I did the work so that when I entered into my own marriage, I felt like I brought some kind of wisdom and experience with me. I’ve been married for almost 26 years now and some years were amazing, some years were really tough and some years, quite simply, were a blur. We are now in the season of life where our adult children are discerning their own vocation and it’s my prayer they took more good than bad from witnessing our marriage.

As a Protestant, I don’t recall feeling “called” to marriage. I simply met a man, fell in love, and got married. I mistakenly thought that was really all it entailed…that love would conquer all.  As a convert and six years into our marriage, I began learning more about the vocation and sacrament of marriage and developed a greater understanding of the grace and strength that Jesus gives us to live out this Covenant. In a true sacramental marriage, the husband and wife order themselves entirely to the other in total self-giving love. (CCC 1661

All of that sounds great when you first get married, but when you add children, careers, finances, etc. things get a bit more difficult. I don’t mean this to sound like children make life or your marriage hard. But I do believe that once your family begins to grow, the intentionality behind your relationship really comes into play. Emphasizing the importance of your marriage doesn’t mean you’re neglecting the children; instead, it leans into the proper arrangement of relationships within your family. I have to believe that a healthy marriage directly contributed to our children’s well-being over the years. 

My husband has always been good about showing me affection in front of the children, calling me his ” girlfriend ” and insisting that he always had first dibs on a hug from me. I giggle thinking back on how this annoyed our daughter whose primary love language is physical touch and who always wanted to be in between us – in the middle of a hug, in the middle of our bed, or between us in the pew at church. She definitely learned to share, she learned some patience but most importantly, she saw her father loving and doting on her mother. In a recent conversation, she shared that seeing us be affectionate gave her a sense of confidence in us and allowed her to be a kid and not fret over her parents’ relationship

We are a coaching family – my husband coaches high school football in Texas. This is an important caveat because around here, football coaches work seven days a week. He is at work a lot. To be sure we still saw him regularly, I would take the kids to his practices, we’d pass out popsicles to the players on those 100+ degree days or we’d meet up with him after school and before practice to give him a Gatorade and a snack. These extras became the normal rhythm of our life and allowed me to prioritize seeing my husband, supporting and encouraging him. Our children were not only eager participants in these visits but also witnesses to this part of our marriage in which we showed up for one another.

I believe, that in the long run, children exposed to a healthy marital relationship are more likely to have a clear understanding of what they seek in a spouse. Our son, a twenty-something high school teacher, has always known ‘who’ he’s looking for but is also content to live the single life for now. His confidence in what he desires from a partner and how he envisions marriage is striking.  Our daughter, a newly engaged 2024 college graduate,  is now beginning to see our relationship within the context of what she views as a ‘good marriage.’ Don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t want to duplicate our relationship, but she can bear witness to the aspects she wants for her own marriage. It’s fun to see how she and her fiance interact with one another and to see the reflection of us in ever-so slight ways. 

What did my kids learn from my Catholic marriage?

  • Discerning your call to married life is necessary to living a true sacramental marriage.
  • Emphasizing your marriage does not equate to neglecting your children; instead, it shows children what a healthy marriage looks like.
  • Showing appropriate affection for your spouse gives your children a sense of stability and confidence in their family. 
  • Supporting, encouraging, and showing up for one another isn’t an ‘extra’ thing to do; rather, it should be the normal rhythm of your relationship.

It’s only with confidence that the grace and strength by which we navigated our marriage for the last 26 years came straight from Jesus, that I can say that lifelong commitment and enduring intimacy are achievable. Nineteen-year-old me who sat on a small, blue loveseat across from my parents as they announced their separation would have argued that point with you. I think, as with anything, children will learn from the good and the bad. I never saw my parents prioritize each other and then I later picked up the pieces of my life when it shattered with their divorce after their 22 years of marriage. I learned that this was not what I wanted for myself. My husband was raised by a divorced, single mom and he had no experience of marriage on which to draw. He learned that it was not what he wanted for himself. But, by the power of redemption and all the gifts and graces that come from the sacrament of marriage, we have been able to, not only endure, but grow and thrive. It is my prayer that our children learn from us and from how we’ve tried to live as an example. It is my prayer that as they continue discerning vocation for themselves they can look back and learn from ours.  

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Image: Photo by Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash

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