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Who comes first in a marriage, the spouse or the adult children?

Tagged as: Family, Marriage problems<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (21 June 2009) 13 Answers - (Newest, 14 April 2014)
A female United States age 51-59, *ister1959 writes:

Who comes first in a marriage, the spouse or the adult children? I've heard this debated so many times and no one seems to have a clear answer.

Being a Christian, I believe the marriage comes first. My husband thinks the children do.

I am my husband's second wife and I have never had children. I love his kids, but do not have the bond of blood with them that he does. His kids are 29, 28 and 25. All have wives and kids of their own. They are fantastic people and I would care for them even if I wasn't married to their father. The problem lies more in the way that their dad treats them.

He constantly wants to do things for them and the grandchildren (of which there are 5). This involves time and money. The kids do not ask for things.......he wants to do it and volunteers. I love my husband for his generous and giving spirit and for the deep love he has for his kids.

However, I do resent that he does not take the same interest in our marriage and me. We have things around home that need to be done and he often monitors the money I spend on myself. If that money was being spent on the kids, it would be no object.

Last night, he had a few beers and was talking quite honestly and openly with me. He told me that he had always wanted the best for his kids and even though they are adults with families of their own, he can't seem to stop doing for them. He said he knew that as his wife, I should be his top priority, but he can't stop thinking of his kids first. I really didn't know what to say to all this. He basically confirmed everything that I have suspected.

How can I accept this? I always envisioned a marriage where it would be him and me against the world. I know my husband loves me but I often wonder if his kids had never left home if he would have even sought out a mate. They seem to be his life and I am his partner who he wants to feel the same way about them that he does. I can't. I want things for us. I want to improve our home and our life.

I feel the kids are grown and all have good jobs and skills.......thanks to their dad's teaching and good example. They need his love and will always need it but they don't need all his time and money. And I don't think they want it. He just feels it's his duty to provide it.

From what I have learned both from him and the kids, my husband's first wife and the kids' mother was quite selfish and he has had to look after the kids' needs since they were small. His mother told me that he would get up early before work and fix food for the kids so they would have something to eat for the day because their mother often never bothered. This job of "provider" is deeply ingrained.

Can he ever learn to "let go" (even just a little???) and focus on us? If so, how can I steer him in the right direction without seeming selfish and domineering?

View related questions: christian, money

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A reader, anonymous, writes (14 April 2014):

Take it from me you will not win this one. I am 60 my husband is 74, he has two children ages 53 and 54, both unmarried, gainfully employed.

They share our second home (which is next door) and REFUSE to pay rent. When I talk to my husband about it he says, "I'm not going to put them out." I've never asked him to put them out, just hold them accountable.

My husband is retired, I still work. They also will not pay sewer bill or trash bill. They use our account for trash by putting the trash out with us. We were sued for the sewer bill because it is our home.

He constantly complains about money I spend and yet never inquires about the money they spend while they live rent free. We've been married 21 years and I an strongly considering divorce. This has gone on too long and I need to save my sanity.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (1 May 2013):

With my spouse it is a matter of him needing to be needed by his 3 adult sons, and "trying" to keep up with his 3 other, better-off brothers. Oddly, his own father was a poor example. It is my opinion that my spouse is overcompensating now for a lack of a better role model. I agree with the earlier comment; "If 'let go' means letting the sons and daughters function as adults, which means letting them get into trouble and find their own way out of it, then yes, he should do that". My expectations upon marrying my spouse were "the kids will grow up, graduate, leave the nest, get jobs/schooling, apartments, significant others, pay their own bills, and basically take pride in getting out on their own" like my 4 siblings and I did. My stepsons are all intelligent, able, and independent as far as their biological parents allow. I cringe when I hear a parent say "I will always be here for my kids". If taken literally, mom or pop should just throw in the towel and wait for requests to start flowing. However, consider my parents' style of parenting. They instilled in us that if we get ourselves into trouble, we had to get ourselves out. (That was even before we were old enough to know trouble!) If we wanted something we had to work, save up to purchase it. If it cost more than we had, we saved more. They started on us early, teaching us to make decisions, to wait, to earn, to share, to play, to save, to work. No credit, no deals, no loans. We learned to depend on ourselves, building self esteem, character, integrity, self-control, patience, and the value of a dollar. Imagine my surprise when my spouse shelled out hundred dollar bills to the boys at the slightest celebration, when he threw down a thousand dollars for a son's wedding when he didn't pay anything for our own wedding 7 years prior (ouch), pays overdrafts for another son who can't seem to live within his means, and recently to co-sign a mortgage on the married son's and d-i-l home in another state after they had over-extended themselves between the starting and finishing building a house. Spouse was in his "rescue" mode and didn't consider my opinion, or the risk to our savings, retirement. Additionally, when the mortgage paperwork was flawed and had to be redone (can you say, reconsider!) he signed again after of his own mother, brothers and sister-in-law advised against it. His excuse was "don't you trust [son]?" Well, no, he graduated college, moved to Hawaii, married on the beach, wife has student loans out the wazoo, returned home, started working in a brewry. So, no, not a good business move on spouse's part. But this is a perfect example of his "the kids can do no wrong" attitude. I know many parents who haven't lost good sense and logic in dealing with the adult kids. There is no doubt that we love each other. I have realized he married me to complete his idea of "family". But I feel stuck with this one who values his kids over me, even though he wouldn't be able to treat the kids as he does with out me. I may not be privy to purchasing the gifts or other generousities, I will acknowlege their thank-yous just the same, because their dad couldn't do it without me.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (13 July 2010):

I am in a similar situation. My husband's first wife died of illness several years ago. I have never had children. He has two daughters in their 20's, both single and parents of small children.

Sometimes situations come up that need immediate attention and they have no other man available to help. I believe that Biblically, a father still has SOME obligations to single daughters to help when it is needed. A parent never wants to quit helping his or her own children....

BUT-that being said-a spouse's first priority IS their spouse. I totally disagree with people who say childen always come first. That is why so many couples divorce. if the marriage is not strong, the family is not either. Like one respondent said, whats the point of getting married if you are just going to ignore your partners needs?

Comsidering your husband's children are grown with their own spouses he needs to let them out of the nest and set his priorities on you. They have their family responsibilities to their own wives and kids, now your husband is supposed to be focusing mainly on you, HIS spouse.

Sounds like he is having difficulty letting his kids leave the nest and maybe is afraid they won't ever need him anymore. Just a guess.

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A female reader, Samii United Kingdom +, writes (23 June 2009):

Samii agony auntYour kids should always come first regardless of thier age. when you agree to have them, you agree to best by them for the rest of thier lives. whether you are the childrens mother or not they still come first. I think that if you were a mother yourself you would understand. xx

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A female reader, eyeswideopen United States +, writes (23 June 2009):

eyeswideopen agony auntAmen, Sister.

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A female reader, Sister1959 United States +, writes (22 June 2009):

Sister1959 is verified as being by the original poster of the question

I also realize that having no children, I am in a minority. This is nothing new....it's always been that way. I didn't choose to not have children, I was just never blessed with any of my own. Down through the years, I've been looked upon as someone who just doesn't understand parenthood. I've been told that by mothers, in fact. And, I guess that's true. Those of you who have children were blessed by God.....some of us were not. So, please do not lump us all into a selfish group of people who simply did not want children. Because that is unfair.

Still in all, whether I have children or not, does not change my perception of how a marriage was intended by God. Yes, I'm starting the Christian thing again. Marriage is sacred. There is nothing wrong with loving your children, in fact, there is something quite wrong with you, if you don't. Same thing in providing for them.

I realize this comment will draw a lot of controversy but I'm going to say it anyway. I think if more parents put their marriage first, there would be less divorce, the children would learn from example and their marriages would be happier. And, I think if more parents stopped putting their children before their marriages, the children themselves would learn more respect and perhaps the world wouldn't be full of a bunch of selfish, disrespectful, lazy kids. Sorry.......it's just my opinion.

Seems to me that so many people have their priorities totally screwed up. Love your children........ALWAYS love your children but treat your marriages as sacred. I can't help but wonder how many of you who said to put the children first are divorced. If you are, do you think you did your children a service by that?

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A female reader, eyeswideopen United States +, writes (22 June 2009):

eyeswideopen agony auntI think you are totally right. My husband and I were fortunate enough to raised our three children together as a united front. None of that "wait till your Dad gets home" crap. Sure we (the parents) would go without on occasion so a child could have a special birthday present that wasn't in the budget but it always was Dad who got the biggest piece of chicken, I made sure of that. Now that the kids are grown they get help on occasion but never if it in anyway takes away from either my husband or myself. We have earned it, pure and simple. I think your husband has some underlying issues and spending his time and money is his way of dealing with it. I also think outside counseling would be a great benefit to your marriage, I hope he agrees to go with you.

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A female reader, Sister1959 United States +, writes (22 June 2009):

Sister1959 is verified as being by the original poster of the question

If my husband's children were young, I would be the biggest cheerleader he would have in providing for their needs. I've always been a "motherly" type although I have never been a mother. However, i am not talking about their needs. Or actually even their wants. They are all financially capable of taking care of those themselves. It's my husbands needs and wants. He has an overwhelming need and want to do things for his children. I, myself, had great parents. They took care of my needs and most of my wants until I became an Adult (adult is the key word here). If I needed help as an adult, they were more than willing to help me. "Need" is another key word.

These kids don't need the help nor most times, do I think they particularly want it. I honestly think they see the situation clearer than he does. He still sees them as little kids.

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A female reader, Sister1959 United States +, writes (22 June 2009):

Sister1959 is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Thank you all for your helpful replies. To clarify a point to "oldersitter". I guess I did not make myself clear.....I am not financially dependant on my husband. I work full time. All our money is together. If I buy something new for myself, he seems to think I am "wasting" money yet he loves buying things for the kids and money is no object. Also, I will not get into a religious debate but the Bible clearly states that when a couple are joined together in marriage, they become as "one". Children are a bonus. They are to be loved and cared for. Then, when they leave their mother and father, they become as one with their spouse. No love is lost......but priorities change. They have to.

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A female reader, SirenaBlusera Mexico +, writes (22 June 2009):

SirenaBlusera agony auntYou brought your children into the world... they're your flesh and blood. To say that God wants you to put them second is just not right. I'm not trying to hurt you, but I don't understand why people think it's the Christian way to put your spouse over your children.

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A male reader, Danielepew Mexico +, writes (21 June 2009):

Danielepew agony auntReading your post, I can see that what you're really asking is who should be first: you, or his sons and daughters. I believe that many, many people would not hesitate to say that the sons and daughters should come first. Imagine what would happen if the children were yours, and you considered that your first obligation were not towards him. That would sound very bad, wouldn't it?

That said, I think you made a mistake in your choice of question. Your husband, if he's any sensitive, has to devote interest to all, sons and daughters, on the one hand, and wife, on the other. He should not neglect you. And you're very, very right on that one.

I also think we need to define what "let go" means. I'm afraid that many parents, or people who play the role of such, never "let go", if by that you mean caring about their sons and daughters. My grandfather, who was not exactly a model father, gave me some sensitive but hard-to-take advice when he was literally on his way to the operating room. He knew very well that there was a possibility that he wouldn't come out alive, yet he found the time to worry about me. This is one of the things I can never forget about the grandpa, and rightly so.

If "let go" means letting the sons and daughters function as adults, which means letting them get into trouble and find their own way out of it, then yes, he should do that.

I believe that you have to let him see that he's neglecting you, and that you, too, need his care and affection.

I hope you will get that from him.

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A female reader, Ich_liebe_dich Philippines +, writes (21 June 2009):

Ich_liebe_dich agony auntHi,i absulutelty understand what you are feeling right now. this is really a hard thing youre dealing right now.

if im on the position im gonna get crazy i guess. of course he will always love his children and the grand children. but as what you say this children is not anymore a children they are all grown up and already in a stable life. i think this is the time now for you to talk to him and ask him, what is the reason for your marriage then! if he always do the unnecessary responsibilities to his children. I think this is the time for you and him to do your own life. enjoying the time together, helping each other what is need to be done in the house etc. but most of all" he marry you,. you are his wife., i guess you are now suppose to be his first majority in life. talk to him and make things clear about this matter. I will not put my self into to much responsabilities which normally not mine anymore. if i can help i will do" but everybody had their limits.Goodluck dearest...

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A female reader, kellyxxx United Kingdom +, writes (21 June 2009):

kellyxxx agony auntKids come first, as soon as a child is born its parents must do anything humanly possible to protect and provide for it, x

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