The Love Hierarchy

Once you become a mother, you’re supposed to sublimate your needs and fully embrace this role -- often to the detriment of your marriage. Alisa Bowman suggests that, if you care about the well being of your children, you do everything possible to nurture your marriage. Here are some easy ways to put your marriage first.

Mature couple

How could you?!

Several years ago, author Ayelet Waldman penned a New York Times "Modern Love" essay in which she unapologetically confessed that she loved her husband more than her kids. And the backlash was severe. Moms decried her statement -- bashing her for admitting that a mother could love her spouse more deeply than her children.

According to Alisa Bowman, author of Project: Happily Ever After (Running Press, December 2010), no one goes into parenthood thinking, "I can't wait for my marriage to end. Kids are the answer!" Yet putting the kids first does just that: It erodes the marriage.

the Hierarchy of love

"Staying happily married is a hard enough exercise as it is without stressing it even more," says Bowman. "The healthiest families have a love hierarchy that looks like this: Mom loves herself. Dad loves himself. Mom loves Dad. Dad loves Mom. Mom and Dad love the children."

It doesn't work in reverse though. "If you flip that hierarchy and put the kids at the top, it doesn't work. All of the energy gets sucked into caring for the children. Mom neglects herself. Dad neglects himself. They neglect each other. Their health suffers. They get stressed and mentally compromised. The marriage suffers, and eventually the kids do, too."

quotation mark open The healthiest families have a love hierarchy that looks like this. Mom loves herself. Dad loves himself. Mom loves Dad. Dad loves Mom. Mom and Dad love the children. quotation mark close

Love as a noun

Bowman believes many of us confuse "love" as a verb with "love" as a noun. There is an instinctual love that we all feel for our children. We have an instinct to protect them. And most mothers will admit -- if pressed -- that they would take a bullet for their kids without thinking about it, but would think first before taking that bullet for their spouses. And some, depending on the health of the marriage, might not take a bullet for their spouses at all.

That's healthy and normal. Our children need our protection. Our spouses don't necessarily need us to hold their hands as they cross the street. That's why we feel that urge to protect our kids, but we don't feel the urge to protect our spouses. Our spouses are capable of protecting themselves -- most of the time.

Love as a verb

Love as a verb, says Bowman, is different from what makes you protect your children. "When you love as an action, you are doing what you need to do to nurture both the person and the relationship. You can still know that you would take a bullet for your kids while, at the same time, putting yourself and your marriage first," she says. "There's a difference, but most women don't realize that. They think that putting themselves and their marriage first means that they don't care about what happens to their kids. It's really the opposite. If you care about the well being of your children, you will do everything possible to nurture your marriage."

Next: How kids benefit when marriage comes first >>

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Comments on "Love your kids? Love your husband!"

Shaikh October 18, 2012 | 11:32 AM

I do disagree with one statement that its okay to not feel like taking a bullet for your spouse. Love is SELF-SACRIFICAL and without that component of love, love is not love at all. If you TRULY LOVE some one you would be willing to give your life for that person spouse or child.

Ms. Chey May 03, 2011 | 8:23 PM

I think everyone should put their kids first. There is MANY MANY men out there but theres only that kid. Putting your husband first is wrong in my eyes.

Tinamarie Bernard August 31, 2010 | 11:59 PM

I liked this so much, it inspired me to write my own piece on the topic. Thanks for giving me the dose of courage to stand up for this as well. :) I do link back to you, and hope my readers find your parenting articles as well. T

Amanda August 18, 2010 | 1:30 PM

I completely agree with this. I think part of the reason my children are often so happy and well-adjusted is because my husband and I have a great relationship with each other. My husband's parents are always fighting with each other (I mean it's actually odd to see them go a day without fighting about something). Not only did this have a negative impact on my husband growing up, but it continues to have a negative impact. No one wants to be around unhappy people who are constantly at war with others and themselves.

Mr. S August 16, 2010 | 12:05 PM

Thanks very much for this article. Im going to show it to my wife who always put her childrens needs before our own. We have lost touch and I am hoping this article will help. Its nice that she loves her children (they are my stepchildren and I love them too) but they are 21 and 16 and its not necessary to answer their every beck-and-call. Thanks for a great article!

Ms_Fu August 14, 2010 | 12:30 PM

As a woman who grew up in a home where my parents loved us more than each other, I totally agree with Chapman. Nothing caused me more stress than the poor relationship that my parents had with one another, even when they said "it doesn't concern you." My hope is that I will learn from my parents' mistakes (though I must add that they are lovely people) and put my husband first. Besides, I think focusing too much on your kids makes them narcissistic and deprives them of the ability to be truly independent.

isaac August 13, 2010 | 10:05 AM

well i give thanks that you can make this site interesting to people,so i will do as directed.thanks.

M Zayfert August 10, 2010 | 4:44 PM

Agree! You have to show your children what love looks like. It is important to set the model for the way they should respect themselves so that they can have a loving relationship all through their lives.

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