Why Your Spouse Should Be Your First Priority (Even If You Don't Feel Like Theirs)

Should your husband or wife always come first?

husband looking at camera smiling while wife kisses his cheek Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

You've always heard that to keep your marriage happy and healthy, you and your spouse must prioritize each other and your marriage. After all, to prioritize is to love. Therefore, you may cook their favorite meals, sacrifice your career or education goals to support theirs, or defend them against your disapproving parents. You love them to no end.

But no matter how much you do for your spouse, you feel unloved and can’t seem to climb their ladder of priorities. Either they are working too much or too late, they are always tired, or they spend more time with the kids than you.


You start to feel unloved, lonely, unappreciated, angry, and resentful. You used to be their priority; will those days ever return again?

While these feelings are difficult to overcome, many relationships struggle with this situation. A common response is some form of withdrawing from that partner and investing more into the relationships with the children. Let’s face it; it is very difficult to treat your spouse as a priority with kids involved. It’s even more difficult to continue to treat your spouse as a priority over the kids when, in fact, your spouse is not reciprocating.

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It’s like your spouse just didn’t get the memo. Why does putting your spouse first only apply to you and not them? And why should you continue to enable your spouse to put you second or third (or even last) when relationships are supposed to be 100/100?

Here are 3 reasons why your spouse should be your first priority — even if they're not returning the favor (yet).

1. Quitters never win.

You may feel disgruntled and upset that your spouse isn't making you a priority, but if you desire a healthy and strong marriage — where you both place each other as a priority — then you can’t stop prioritizing your spouse.

Think about it: If neither of you is making the other the priority, how is that really helping you get the marriage you want and deserve?

When you got married, it was about you and your spouse making a commitment to each other. So instead of withdrawing your love out of revenge or hurt feelings, seek outside help to rebalance your relationship and get your marriage back on track.


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2. You made a commitment to do so when you got married.

Prioritizing your spouse is less about what you get from it and more about why you do it. You should prioritize your partner because you have made a commitment to yourself to unconditionally and persistently treat your spouse that way.

Don’t allow his or her shortcomings to change who you are. Don't change your beliefs or actions just because they did.

Perhaps you can coach your partner and help him or her get back on track. You might even seek the help of a professional.

3. You are setting an example for your children.

Kids see everything, and they have a developing intuition. Therefore, they can sense when something is “off” in you and your partner's relationship.


They notice when you are much nicer and spending more time than usual with them. They also notice the more forced conversations and less energy exerted toward the other parent. They internalize these cues you and your spouse give off, which implies, “If I’m not happy in my relationship, then I will spend time elsewhere instead of working to make things better.”

But those behaviors don't build a healthy marital foundation. Instead, your children need to see that healthy marriages take work in order to remain healthy.

When children know their parents are not high on each other’s priorities, a storm of emotions can begin to brew. Some kids will show signs of anxiety, depression, or academic underachievement because of the instability of emotions in the home. Others can be more clever and find ways to manipulate parents to get what they want.

Nevertheless, this creates a bigger issue for the relationship as one or both of you begin to focus even more on helping your kids than each other — which only further perpetuates the downward spiral of your relationship. At this point, family counseling is highly recommended to readjust the entire family's dynamic instead of only addressing what was once an issue between you and your spouse.


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Remember, prioritizing your spouse isn’t easy for everyone.

I can’t even think of a time when someone said, “I know my spouse loves me, appreciates me, respects me, and supports me the way I need, but I still don’t feel like a priority.”

Oftentimes, the relationships are lacking in one or more of those areas. Prioritizing is a hard concept in marriages because it involves multiple aspects of connecting with your partner. Your spouse may do well in some areas but not in others.

It can take quite a bit of self-discipline, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence to really prioritize each other. Set smaller expectations and goals for your spouse to work toward prioritizing you. It may not be as easy or come naturally to them as it does for you. But the good news is, it's something they can work at with a little guidance and support from you.


All people come to a relationship with a specific understanding of their role as a spouse and how relationships should work. It’s easy to say, “I love you,” “I’ll do anything for you,” or “I just want to make you happy."

But to actually show your partner this can be challenging. And when the both of you have different ideas about what it means to be an active member in a loving relationship, and you begin to feel less prioritized, it’s very difficult to stick with it.

However, instead of sacrificing who you genuinely are at the expense of the relationship and the kids’ emotional development, accept that what you do is the healthy way to be married — and don't give up. Your relationship can improve, and your spouse can learn to prioritize you, as well.


And if you need extra help, contact a professional for assistance in getting back the marriage you deserve.

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Dr. Eric Williams is a relationship expert in private practice. He specializes in counseling couples of all backgrounds, empowering them to define their collaborative purpose and vision.