What’s the Secret to a Happy Marriage? Putting Your Spouse First

UPDATED: August 11, 2023
PUBLISHED: December 1, 2016
happy couple who have put each other first in marriage

The former E! News reporter, Giuliana Rancic, said putting her husband first and her baby second is the secret to her happy marriage. I couldn’t agree more with putting your spouse first. But, as you might suspect, controversy happened online as some women came out on attack and others defended her comments. I was invited to appear on Good Morning America to defend Rancic.

If you watch the segment, you’ll meet two female bloggers who say the kids always come first and then laugh about where their spouses fall on the list: “If you asked me, actually, what the breakdown was, I would say it goes my children, my girlfriends, then my husband. But shh, don’t tell him that, he doesn’t know that.” And then they laugh like it’s all a big joke.

I bet her husband‘s breakdown is the same: my children, my girlfriends and then my wife… but don’t tell her, she doesn’t know it because she’s too busy focusing on her kids, her friends and herself. Marriage isn’t a joke. If you put your spouse last, it’s a tragic, sad affair. 

Why putting your spouse first is important

My husband Chris and I have been together for 27 years. Like yours may be, our lives are consumed by the logistics of running a household, managing careers and caring for our three kids and a dog. Like yours may be, our lives are impossibly busy. And, like you, we love our kids. Our marriage provides the foundation for everything that we’ve built together. It isn’t a joke. It’s something we work hard at and are tremendously proud of. I want it to last a lifetime, which is why I treat it accordingly. If you stop and think about it, that’s the way it should be. You should put your marriage first because:

A strong marriage is the healthiest thing you can give your kids. 

When your kids see two parents who work as a team, take interest in each other, make an effort, display both respect and affection, act like one another’s favorite and have a strong relationship, even after all these years, you may not only be providing a boost of love and emotional support, but also a roadmap for their future relationships.

If you put your spouse first, your marriage will last your lifetime. 

If you want your marriage to last your lifetime, give it the attention and effort it deserves. Your kids will live with you for just a few short decades. Putting your marriage on cruise control for 20 or so years while you focus on your kids is like falling asleep at the wheel—deadly. When your kids leave, your spouse is the one who’s left. If you’ve made them your last priority (and think it’s funny to do so), they’d be dumb to stay with you.

Spouses aren’t roommates, they’re partners and lovers. 

When your kids become the center of your universe, your role as a spouse takes a backseat. Slowly, you may start to feel like a taxi driver, lunch packer and homework checker. You and your spouse may become so busy or stressed focusing on everything but each other that you drift apart. At first you just feel really busy, but then you may settle into that routine assuming it’s a phase—that everything will go back to normal once the kids are gone. And you’re right, it is a phase—it’s the beginning of the end. If the stress doesn’t get to you first, suddenly the kids are gone, and you can’t remember why you married each other in the first place.

You don’t want to raise obnoxious kids. 

When you make kids the center of your universe, they may begin to think they are the center of the universe.

Don’t you want your kids to grow up and have a spouse who puts them first? 

Of course you do! And, it’s your job to teach them what that looks like. Show them with your marriage first.

How to put your spouse first

Putting your marriage first is actually really easy. All you have to do is to find small ways to make your spouse feel cherished. You probably already do this to your dog, so just follow that philosophy: Treat your spouse like the dog, only better. Greet them at the door, always be happy to see them (wag your tail), go for walks every day, reward good behavior several times a day with a treat, give lots of physical affection every day (pet the dog) and don’t hold grudges (you don’t punish a dog for weeks on end for pooping once in the house, so don’t be mad at your spouse for something they said last week). Other suggestions include:

  • Bring them coffee every morning.
  • Hug and hold hands, often.
  • Text/flirt throughout the day (reminders such as “just thinking about you xo”)
  • Make your bedroom a no-kids zone—explain to the kids that it’s “your space.”
  • Say, “I love you,” in front of the kids, daily.
  • Plan the week as a family every Sunday to make logistics a minimum. Manage your family like it’s a team but you’re the star players. A friend of mine calls it “steering the ship”—the family may all be on the same cruise liner, but you and your spouse are the ones driving it.

A good example of putting your spouse first

It’s simple stuff if you think about it. Honestly, it’s just about your focus. Life is busy. Technology overwhelms us. When you throw in kids, pets, work, friends, etc, you have to prioritize—you cannot do it all. Declaring your spouse as your No. 1 priority is the first step, and from there it’s pretty simple. My mom and dad have been married for more than 50 years. To this day, I remember that, when dad would come home, he’d hug mom first and the dog would start barking at their embrace because he was so jealous.

I remember that we’d have to wait to have dinner until he got home from work, no matter how late it was. Even at a young age, I knew that we weren’t waiting because they wanted us to all be together, it was because they wanted to be together. I also remember how he told her he loved her every day and kissed her before he left for work. They modeled a marriage that I wanted. I wanted to be the most important thing in my husband’s life, and vice versa. I never felt a lack of love, just the opposite—I was surrounded by it. And I knew my dad loved me, but I knew he loved my mom most. And that’s how it should be.

This article was updated August 2023. Photo by Inside Creative House/Shutterstock

Mel Robbins is a contributing editor to SUCCESS magazine, best-selling author, CNN commentator, creator of the “5 Second Rule” and the busiest female motivational speaker in the world. To find out more, visit her website: MelRobbins.com. To follow her on Twitter: Twitter.com/melrobbins