Caring for Children Means Caring
for Each Other
BY: Willard F.
Harley, Jr., Ph.D.
Children desperately need parents who stay married to each
other, and love each other. Their future depends on it. Yet,
their parents are very likely to lose their love for each other
after they arrive, because they forget why they married.
They didn't marry to raise children -- they
married to meet each other's intimate emotional needs. And the
presence of children tends to make them think that they don't
have time and energy to meet those needs anymore. When that
happens, they lose their primary motive to be married -- their
love for each other.
A man and woman usually decide to marry because
they have formed a very successful romantic relationship -- they
are in love with each other and are meeting each other's
intimate emotional needs. They want to make that romantic
relationship last a lifetime, so they marry. At the time, they
are optimistic about keeping their love for each other alive,
and they don't expect anything to threaten that love -- least of
all, children. But if they were to understand how their love was
created, and how it is sustained, they would immediately see why
children are such a risk.
The two essential ingredients of a romantic
relationship -- being in love and meeting intimate emotional
needs -- are inseparable. A man and woman love each other
because they meet each other's intimate emotional needs, and
they meet each other's intimate emotional needs because they
love each other. If either one of those factors suffers, the
other suffers as well. That's why it's relatively difficult to
keep a romantic relationship on track -- it's very fragile.
If living conditions make the meeting of
intimate emotional needs more difficult or even impossible to
provide, the love a couple has for each other is at risk. They
usually don't see their loss of love coming, because they think
their love is based on chemistry (they are made for each other)
or their willingness to be in love (their love for each other is
a decision) -- factors they think guarantee a lifetime of love.
But what really sustains love in marriage is neither of those.
It is their effectiveness in meeting each other's intimate
Intimate emotional needs can only be met when a
couple are able to give each other their undivided attention,
and when children become part of their lives, they lose the
privacy that undivided attention requires. Job requirements that
are considered necessary to support children can also take
undivided attention away from couples. The pressure of family
life, with so many wants and limited available resources, is yet
another factor that makes undivided attention elusive.
When opportunity for undivided attention is
taken from a couple, the meeting of intimate emotional needs is
no longer possible. And when the meeting of intimate emotional
needs is no longer possible, the love a man and woman have for
each other withers and dies. And when their love for each other
is gone, the risk of divorce is extremely high.
Couples marry because they think their romantic
relationship will continue throughout their lives. And it would,
if they were to continue meeting each other's intimate emotional
needs. But as soon as their children arrive, there is a very
high likelihood that their romantic relationship will end,
because they cannot find time to give each other undivided
attention. And with the end of their romantic relationship,
their marriage is at risk.
Children do not require parent's attention 24
hours a day. Nor do they suffer when parents are giving each
other their undivided attention. It's not the child's fault that
parents neglect each other when children arrive -- it's the
parent's fault when they decide that their children need so much
of their time, they have not time left for each other. But the
truth is that couples have time for both their children and each
other, if they schedule their time wisely.
The solution to this problem in marriage is
remarkably simple. It doesn't require entirely new skills, or a
remaking of a couple's ability to care for each other. All it
takes is going back to what it was that created the love a
couple has for each other in the first place -- heartfelt
affection, intimate conversation, recreational companionship,
and sexual fulfillment. These intimate emotional needs, above
all else, must be met in marriage if a romantic relationship is
to be sustained.
As long as a husband and wife take the time to
meet these needs for each other every week of their lives, they
will never lose the passion that they had the moment they were
married. But it takes time to meet these needs, and it takes
privacy. They cannot be met with children running around your
feet. Couples rarely understand this important fact.
If I were to give you $1,000,000 to stay in love
for 10 years after your children arrived, and I had a fool-proof
way of determining if you were actually in love, how would you
make sure you had the money at the end of the ten years?
Even if you had never read anything I've written
on the subject, I'm sure you would begin by carving time out of
every week to make sure you met each other's emotional needs.
Because you already know that it would greatly increase the
chances of your being in love with each other after 10 years.
You already know how your love for each other was created -- you
gave each other your undivided attention when you were dating.
You were always affectionate with each other; you would talk to
each other the way lovers talk, you would spend your
recreational time together, and you were both sexually attracted
to each other, and responded to that attraction.
If $1,000,000 was conditional on your being in
love after 10 years with children, you would create a plan that
would give you enough privacy, and enough time, to stay
emotionally connected throughout those ten years.
Now let me tell you something that may not have
occurred to you.
If you are not in love with each other after 10
years with children, you are very likely to lose $1,000,000
during the rest of your life in the form of costs incurred due
to divorce. The cost of a lifetime of lost income, lost savings
and investments, lost health, lost support from an extended
family, and the cost of the divorce itself is just the beginning
of the losses that can be enumerated by those who have figured
these things out (Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for
Marriage, pp 110-125).
In other words, you will have about $1,000,000
more to spend than you would have had, if you can simply stay
married for the rest of your lives. And the only way to
guarantee that your lives will be spent together is to guarantee
your love for each other.
But the economic advantage of a lifelong
marriage is not nearly as important as the positive effect it
has on children. The greatest contribution that parents can make
to their children's happiness and success is to love each other
for life. If parents love their children, and want the best for
their children, they must do everything possible to preserve
their romantic relationship. That means caring for each other
must be their highest priority -- they must meet each other's
intimate emotional needs. It's not a choice between caring for
each other and caring for children. The reality is that if you
want to truly care for your children, you must care for each