What Does It Mean to Put Your Spouse First?

It starts with a desire to see them happy, at peace, and connected.
By Reggie Madison
April 28, 2021
couple laughing together

What Does It Mean to Put Your Spouse First?

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. The Puzzled Look on my daughter’s face turned to a smile, and then came the proverbial rolling of the eyes (and that’s a good thing).

Here’s the conversation:

Daughter: You’re really not going to be at our basketball game Saturday? (Said with disbelief.)

Me: Nope. I’m taking my wife (who happens to be your mother) on a marriage retreat.

Daughter: Can’t y’all go anytime?

Me: Doesn’t matter. We’re going this weekend. What you worried about? 

Daughter: Nothing. I just… (Shrugs her shoulders.)

Me: If anyone asks where your parents are, just say, “At a marriage retreat acting married.”

Daughter: (Rolls the eyes.)

Me: Don’t worry. We love you, and we hope you play well. But I love that fine-looking queen of mine more.

Daughter: (Walks away smiling, rolling her eyes, and I’m guessing, processing what’s just happened.)

She’s witnessing me putting her mother, a.k.a. my spouse, ahead of her. 


It doesn’t mean that you miss every sporting event, never hang out with friends, or never work overtime. It starts with the heart. And your actions and thoughts will reflect the contents of your heart.

A priority is something we treat or rank as more important. Putting your spouse first above work, children, hobbies, birth family, or other responsibilities means prioritizing your spouse. It doesn’t mean we neglect work, abandon our children or don’t do the things we love. It means that we make sure our spouse knows that we value them more than we value all those other “good” things. 

Here are some ways you can demonstrate that you prioritize your spouse.

Ask Before You Make Plans

When making plans and decisions (particularly ones that affect where you spend your time, money, and energy), ask your spouse for their thoughts and opinions. This shows that you don’t want to do things that may negatively affect your spouse or marriage.

Example: Your co-workers are going out for drinks after work. You want to go. 

Prioritizing Your Spouse:

  1. Call to tell your spouse the situation.
  2. Ask how they feel about it. “What are your thoughts?”
  3. Ask how it will affect the rest of the day. “Anything happening that this will change?”
  4. Understand that turning down the offer may be the best move for your marriage.

Message Sent: Asking shows your spouse that he or she matters. Their feelings matter. How your decisions or plans affect them matters.

Pay Attention to Your Spouse’s Needs

Your husband’s or wife’s needs come first. That’s where your strongest commitment is. Be aware of how easy it is to want to help everyone else and think your spouse can handle everything themselves.

Example: It’s nearing your kids’ bedtime. They’re fussy, whiny, and being difficult. You’re having a deep, meaningful phone conversation, helping a friend.

Prioritizing Your Spouse: 

Tell your friend, “I know this is important, but it’s bedtime, and I need to jump in and help get these kids down. Let me call you back.”

Message Sent: You have your spouse’s back. Even though your friend has a pressing issue, so did your mate. You just demonstrated where your priorities lie. Jumping to help fix everyone’s problem and only helping your spouse when it’s convenient shows they aren’t the priority. We want our spouse to be the first one we support, not the last.

Consider the Impact on Your Spouse

After marriage, your life isn’t just about you. Significant changes affect you both1. Be upfront with your spouse about changes and let them prepare for how it will affect them.

Example: A major project will require you to work overtime and use a lot of mental energy.

Prioritizing Your Spouse: 

Address it head-on from the moment you sense this is a major time-consuming project. Tell your spouse about the overtime and potential stress. You might say, “I don’t want you to feel neglected. As soon as it’s over, we can make up for some lost time, if you know what I mean.”

Message Sent: You’ve considered the impact on your spouse and shown some vulnerability. You’ve recognized what you will lose and indicated a desire to gain it back because you’d rather be with your spouse than work all those extra hours. 

Couples experience different seasons. You may both have heavy work seasons and superactive kids’ seasons where you feel like taxicabs. Dealing with sick family members can also pull lots of time away. 

Putting your spouse first starts with a desire to see them happy, at peace, and connected. 

That’s what my daughter took away from us missing her basketball game. 

Interestingly, research shows that putting your spouse first provides the security, comfort, and stability that helps children thrive.2 And, when couples put each other first, it sets the stage for a fantastic relationship where each person feels loved, supported, and secure.


1ScienceDirect. (n.d.). Family systems theory. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/family-systems-theory

2Brown, S. L. (2010). Marriage and Child Well-Being: Research and Policy Perspectives. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00750.x 


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  1. Cheryl Steidl
    Cheryl Steidl says:

    My Christian fiance is a widower of 6 years. He is 61 years old and is very kind and loves the Lord. He and I are both retired. He has a total of 5 adult children, 2 still live at home. My fiance thought his youngest would be living with us when we got married. I didn’t because she is an adult. He has a problem with setting healthy boundaries with these 2 adult kids that live with him. He drives them everywhere since they both don’t drive, they don’t do chores, he gets whatever carry out food they want because they won’t make anything for themselves, etc. The problem is that after God, your spouse and marriage come second, then your kids. But I have asked him to do some things before we got married and he hasn’t done anything but charge his son rent and for his cell phone, which is a great step forward.
    So I feel disrespected and unloved because he doesn’t change anything. I won’t marry him yet because of the unhealthy boundaries he has with his kids. I know he won’t put me over his kids in our marriage. I know it’s hard being a single parent, especially losing your wife of 29 years. I think she kept control over the household while he worked full time. I think he is having trouble setting boundaries with his kids and not being able to work things out with me. I have prayed for this situation for a long time and the adult kids that live at home are very manipulative and aren’t moving out. I know his youngest said she didn’t believe in God and I don’t think his son is close to God.
    So I have been praying that all of his kids would know Christ as Savior and Lord of their lives. I have been kind to all of his children and care very much for them. But they haven’t been very friendly to me. My fiance and I are members of a Baptist church and attend every week, we are involved in a Life Group and a Bible study, along with being mentors for Parent Life, which is a program for teenagers who have unplanned pregnancies. We teach them about the Lord and life skills. His youngest doesn’t attend church with us, she yells and swears at my fiance, and is on her phone/computer most of the time. He is a great man of faith. I have prayed so much for the Lord to intervene and help my fiance and I with all of this. But my fiance still enables these two kids and hasn’t made any changes. I don’t have any children.
    This relationship has been the most rewarding and yet the most complicated one I have ever had.

    • Lawrence
      Lawrence says:

      Cheryl – This may be hard to hear but speaking from experience my advice is to walk away from this situation BEFORE you get married. My wife’s adult children ruined my marriage by being disrespectful, selfish, know-it all fools. Unfortunately my wife thinks their behavior is acceptable and she continues to defend them after decades of pissing on her. We are probably heading for a divorce after 37 years of marriage because her children have said and done things that I find to be inexcusable yet she defends them and puts them ahead of her husband. Cheryl, please learn from my mistake and DO NOT MARRY THIS MAN. You will eventually be very, very sorry. Like I am Good luck and God bless.

      • Rose
        Rose says:

        Agreed! In my case, I have been in a marriage for 23 years with a Christian man, but he is very permissive father.
        My husband’s adult married daughter keep tried to destroy our marriage. His son is doing the same.
        Even we live over sea, my husband keep putting than in first. We have no time for lunch or dinner if they call. I am the last position since we married.

    • Rose
      Rose says:

      I suggest you get a help at the church and a professional help as well; psychologist may help you AND YOUR FIANCÉ.
      After, check if he got changed. If not, get out of t his relationship as soon as possible.
      Lord does not want to see you unhappy.
      I am in a marriage with the same problem of yours.
      I have no child and my husband has two adult children. After 23 years, my husband keeping putting his manipulative adult children first and he’d never set healthy boundaries with his children which they are adults now and they stop to follow Jesus.
      God bless you

  2. Nicholas
    Nicholas says:

    My name is Nicholas Lily my wife and I are going through difficult times at this time we got married July 31st of last year my son is a high school basketball player the season started in August he plays in Another County then we live so I had to take him to each game to each practice there was no other way of him doing that so during that time I was responsible for getting him there his Senior year which I have been doing all my life now that the season is over my wife is holding me accountable for not being here while I was at his games not saying that she didn’t want me to be there and she could have went to the games but now it’s all over and I’m showing her another side of me that I wasn’t able to do yet she’s not forgiven me for the time we lost and not the time we have what shall we do

  3. Xen Yon
    Xen Yon says:

    My humble opinion.

    There is a difference in priority and inner circle.
    It is nonsense to prioritize a spouse who is safe on dry land when the child is drowning in water.
    Instead prioritize events, concepts. Your values will help you prioritize these events concepts.
    The marriage was in need of this retreat so you prioritize that over kids’ event. With an explanation, a more healthy approach and a learning opportunity (not just an I said do vibe), the child would be more than understanding and support the healing process of the marriage over missing a game. This helps people learn how to be mindful for themselves and others. This mindfulness helps build a strong community where necessities are functionally prioritized.

    Prioritize by situations, not people.

    Inner circle
    You may choose God within you, your wife to be in the closest circle to you, next your child, followed by relatives, then friends, and so forth. This maybe be the level of privacy you would share from within out. Prioritizing in this matter may isolate you in the future from the community felt under appreciated.

    But hey some people are into that so to each their own.

  4. Sara
    Sara says:

    I disagree. I expected an article about a husband prioritising his wife intead of himself, not prioritising his wife over their children. In this situation, did he even ask his wife whether she wanted to go on this retreat? Possibly she might’ve wanted to watch her daughter’s game and cheer for her. My take is that the husband was still prioritising what he believes is the right thing to do, therefore still prioritising himself. The daughter was right, he could’ve waited one day, that way prioritising both his wife and daughter over his belief. If he didn’t care to fix his marriage before, waiting another few days doesn’t make much difference. It’s quite alarming that the writter and the readers do not seem to understand that this is not what is meant by putting your wife first.

    • Shon
      Shon says:

      Sara, there was no indication that he forced his wife to do anything. Where did you read that in the conversation with his daughter. Perhaps it was already agreed upon by them and he just emphasized that they wanted and needed to spend time with each other. You’re accusing him of being controlling where no indication of such behavior is present. You don’t happen to be a feminist or a closet feminist are you Sara?