My pastor gave a message a few months back and asked this question: “Is your family child-centered or marriage-centered?”

He then went on to say that our families need to be marriage-centered, not child-centered. At first I balked a bit, Of course our marriage is child-centered, those children made us a family.  

But then it hit me: No, a couple is a family before they ever have children. It’s not the children that make a family, it’s the marriage. Children become members of that family, but don’t create the family.

My pastor went on to say that couples whose families are child-centered will inevitably struggle when their children leave the nest. The couple will likely look over at one another and wonder what they’re supposed to do once the children are gone. They might not really know each other because they didn’t take the time to connect and grow their marriage while their children were in the home.

This really convicted me. Later on I told my husband, We didn’t set out to do it, but I think our family is very child-centered. Our schedules are full of activity, many of them the children’s. We are official chauffeurs, driving them to and fro just about every day of the week. They are doing good things, but in the process, we’ve neglected to have a consistent date night away from them. Every now and again we’ll get into a good rhythm, but it’s easy to get out of the habit.

Having a marriage-centered family doesn’t mean neglecting our children. Of course we’re called to care for them and be attentive to their needs, but we’re not to let them rule the roost. When we inadvertently make our world about them, they may grow up thinking the rest of the world is about them too. They’ll have a rude awakening when they leave the home.

A marriage-centered home actually benefits the children. When kids see their parents sowing and reaping the seeds of investing in their marriage, the home is likely to be more peaceful and secure. They will grow up seeing us model how to have a great marriage and they’ll take what they observed with them into their own relationships.

I’d like to challenge us all to become more marriage-centered by making regular time with our spouse a priority. Here are a few ways we can do this:

Have a connecting point when you both get home for the day: This isn’t easy, but when you do it, the evening usually runs more smoothly, and you feel connected to your spouse. If you have young children, give them an activity they can do solo for five minutes, like coloring. Spend those few minutes greeting each other, having some physical touch and debrief together about the day or the plans for the evening. As the kids get older and can entertain themselves for longer periods, you can extend this time. When my husband gets home, I’m often making dinner, so this is challenging. But we allow the kids to watch some TV while we chat and I finish up the meal.

Pick a regular date night: You may not get to do it every week but shoot for every two weeks at least. Schedule a sitter in advance, hopefully you have friends and family nearby who can help out. (I highly recommend finding another couple you can trade with.) Or check around with friends for their high-school or college-aged sitter recommendations.

Dates don’t have to be big to be meaningful. Maybe you do something simple like ice cream and a walk one night a week and then splurge for something fancier the next time.

Make physical intimacy a priority: This is often the first thing to slide to the backburner when the calendar is full and everyone is tired from running around all week. But without physical intimacy, a marriage becomes just two roommates raising kids. Sex differentiates marriage from all other relationships, so if it isn’t happening, a marriage isn’t what it should be.

Talk to your spouse about this aspect of your marriage. Even though it can be uncomfortable, it’s worth addressing it so your marriage will be stronger. We need to guard our calendars, our time and our energy to make sure we’re not neglecting this critical aspect of marriage.

No one sets out to let their kids be the focus of the family, but it’s easy to let it happen. Hopefully these tips will help us to refocus and make our families more marriage-centered, which is better for everyone.