"Couple-centered"  or  "Child-centered"  Relationships !?

        A shared email from Christine generated more response than we might have ever anticipated.  Clearly this is an important subject.  Here is her original piece.

 I have learned so much from my life's experiences, but probably the most important lesson, and one I learned from my marriage (now over), is that a partnership should be couple-centered and NOT child-centered.  The couple comes first and when they make their decisions together, with the family in mind, good will follow.  It's what I would want my children to grow up and do  ...make their partner the most important person in their life.

        This subject of relationship/family success and the question of 'couple centered' or 'child centered' has obviously touched upon something very important in many people's lives.  The response has been huge and has included an incredibly rich array of thoughts, observations and experiences!   At times it seemed to me that perhaps there was a particular slant in an individual response depending upon age; being single, married, or divorced; which carried emotions ranging from some bitterness to joyful celebration ... or perhaps long term 'work' being rewarded.
        Welcome to the human condition with all of its challenges and opportunities.  Here are some of the responses.   While there are a few 'different' responses, I am always impressed with the wisdom which can be found or generated when people are courageous enough to share themselves openly!


   You can click on either a Name in the list below ...

    or click on some of the Subject matter brought up in various people's responses.

Click on the alphabetically listed name to see the person's thoughts.

Beatrice  Bobbie  Casandra  Darinka
 David 1 & 2  Deb  Dick  Geoph
 Jackie  Janice  Jean  John1
 John2  K  Kay  Ken
  Laird  Lorraine  Marcia  Margaret1
 Margaret2  Max & Barry  Mick  Miki
 Nancy  Newt  Norman  Paul
 Randy Ray   Sharon
 Shava Susan & Chris  Susan2 Susan3
Upgeya   Don
(These by no means were all the responses.
There were simply more than could be easily assembled here.)

 Click on the subject of interest.
 26th Anniversary  Adapt any situation  Balance
 Balance/Integration  Basic Needs  Bus station
 Childless  Community  Community2
 Dear Abby  Devil's Advocate  Disagree
 Era's  Expanding Commitment  Extended Nursing
 Financial Strain  God  God/Goddess/Spirit
 GrandMa's Advice  Highest Priority  Holon - system
 Mammalian instinct  Non monogamous  Oh well ...
 Parent Centered  SELF  Single Mother
 Sorrow & Suicide  Therapy  Trust Breaking
 Women love kids  Work Centered

     I think I agree with Christine in principle.  But in practice, when I had a young child, there were many times I had to put the child first -- because my human mammal maternal instincts would not have let me do otherwise.

Unfortunately, I believe my husband felt unloved often because of this, and ultimately left the marriage.  He said he felt he came "third" in the family, after my child and me.  Of course, from my viewpoint, I barely took care of any of my own needs, only what was essential to keep me sane, and I barely managed that, gaining weight and suffering from depression for years.

It was truly unfortunate that neither of us knew how to create and then be on the same team in our child-raising.  And I guess my daughter's father and I did not really have a partnership, and therefore it did not survive the stresses of parenthood.

Thanks for asking.  It's an excellent question to ponder.

Beatrice                                  Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

      I think it's important to stay in communication with your partner & use common sense.  Sometimes, children must come first - particularly when they are very young.  That doesn't mean that you become less committed to your partner.  When you and your partner have a child, you have created a family and the relationship dynamic changes.  The commitment to one another now includes a commitment to the family.  The commitment expands  - it doesn't contract.
        A mature adult who is committed to the long term well-being of the family will also be committed to a strong, long-lasting relationship with her/his mate.  People in this sort of relationship dynamic feel secure about their place in the family and aren't concerned about who 'comes first."  Everyone 'comes first" at one time or another
     Bobbie                           Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

         Fun. I was talking about the same thing in therapy this week. The answer to the riddle is in the middle. Everybody's need must be met. Not the couple  over the children or the children over the couple. I was raised by a mother who put her "husband of the year" above her children.    If she had better fulfilled our basic needs for security, stability, affection, emotional  support, positive quality attention, good boundary's; then she could have put her husband first because our basic needs would have been taken care of.
        I understand that if you put the couple first you may have a better chance of staying together, however, just because you put the couple first doesn't mean you WILL stay together.  Lots of people put there partner first but end up divorced anyway. Then you have children who have never been put first and are  ripped apart emotionally due to divorce. The children don't know what it feels like to be first to someone AND on top of it they blame themselves for  the divorce AND deal with the separation and fighting trauma. Talk about major self esteem problems as adults!
        I'm not saying that you should put the  children first. Just their true basic needs. By basic needs I don't mean exotic pets galore, or expensive private schools or lots of material things.  I mean safe environment, stability, emotional support, affection and quality  attention etc. If the children's true basic needs are being met, then focus on your partner.  If not, then focus on the children until they are taken care of. Then go back to your partner.

Casandra                                    Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

         in my life, relationship begins with me and myself, centering that is the best experience of me in the world and hence, the rest follows ........... good communication and centering with my partner and my children.

darinka    .·´¯`·.¸ ><((((º> .·´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸ <º))))>< ,.·´¯`·.¸.·´¯`·.¸ ><((((º>
¸.·´¯`·..·´¯`·.¸ ><((((º> .·´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸.·.¸.·´¯`·.¸ ><((((º>
.·´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸ <º))))>< .·´¯`·.¸.·´¯`·.¸ ><((((º> ¸.·´¯`·..·´¯`·.¸
                     Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

   I agree with this woman's assertion. In fact I take it one step further. I think the greatest gift a couple can give to their kids is a strong, erotic, loving relationship. After all, kids are always watching their parents to discover what their own possibilities are. Also, a kid-centered household lends itself too easily to incongruent power hierarchies (where the kids have too much power they aren't capable of handling and parents not enough). This is a recipe for mental and emotional disasters and extreme family distress.

David1                                                    Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

David2  (different person from David1)

        I believe that the fundamental distinction of making sure that the actual relationship between the couple is healthy and well-grounded is of paramount importance to the overall well-being of the child. The issue of the child's needs and wants, and what is in the child's best interest do need to be given at least equal consideration to that of the couples.   Most importantly, I feel very strongly that the relationship with SELF is the single most important thing that must be given absolute priority over all else, and at the same time holding our close, intimate relationships in the highest regard for our attention, love and stewardship.

        It has been my personal experience as a participant in intimate relationships, as a witness/observer of many others and as a coach/guide doing work around relationship issues that if we do not know what is best for ourselves, then our ability to be whole and to give the best to those who we love and care for is compromised.  This is the way it is with most systems in society. The health of the one is as important to that of the whole, as the health of the whole is important to that of the one. We only need look around us to see the blatant evidence of this reality across a broad range of areas in modern society.

Your Dedicated and Loving Servant Leader,

David Johnstone

President, Cornerstone Strategies
Personal Leadership and Mastery Guide and Facilitator
"I Stand For The Best In You."
Developer Ph.D.of Life Personal Mastery Program

P:(403)543-5588    F:(403)543-5589          Return to top   Return to Names Return to Subjects

        I have found the words of my Grandmother has helped me the most.  She said "In relationship, if you bend, it won't break"  I am on my second marriage, my first was to my High School sweet heart and lasted 12 years and 2 kids worth.  His drinking caused the break up. (Bending the elbow didn't work Grandma).  But I have been remarried now for 9 years through some of the most traumatic events possible and whenever I think of things my new husband  does that drive me to think of leaving, I weigh them against his good points and realize he's not so bad after all.  He has a good heart and helps me be the person I want to be.  I bend with the bad thoughts and don't break the relationship.
Thanks for asking!
Deb                                                  Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

         The concept of “centered” is the problem.  It is too simplistic.  Relationships are too complex to be centered at any given point.  This applies to virtually all relationships, not just families.  Relationships need to be balanced and integrated, not centered.

Dick                                             Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

         Playing the Devil's Advocate again, i see.

Universal solutions hardly ever work universally.  I've seen some child-centered couples that did quite well over time, and i've also run across people who didn't seem to do good in ANY couple, child-centered or otherwise. I expect Christine's proposed relationship strategy might work well for her, given her belief system and current mindset. She should give it a go and then evaluate to see if she learned yet another most important lesson ...

Which brings me around to one of my all-time favorite quotes: "Anyone who generalizes is a fool."

Cheers,   ;-)  Geoph                Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

            I very much agree with Christine.  Many years ago my husband and I struggled with the same question. We began by being children-centered.   We received (and followed) the advice that Christine gives today.  ALL of us benefited, including the children.  This year my husband and I celebrated our 26th anniversary and both our children got married to wonderful women.  I consider this advice to have been one of the key things that made things better for us.

Best, Jackie                            Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

           While I do wholeheartedly agree with this point of Christine' everything else it very occasionally can be carried 'too far'.  After half a century of observations, I have twice encountered offspring of couple had eyes only for each other and almost ignored the children.

How did I get on your email list?  Who is the Mariposa Group?  Please answer !!!

Janice                                   Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

           Well, yes, I have thought about this.  the couple needs to learn to adjust to each other and to the relationship, and to meditate together about important things. If one member of the couple is totally self-centered, there is no relationship, and then the children must be protected.
        My ex-husband became more and more alcoholic and abusive.... so to protect the children, I took them, left, and raised them without his help... though if he had been different I could use the help.  Instead my parents and other family members helped from time to time.
        It is only now that I met my soul mate at age 65 that I can truly see the importance of a soul relationship.   Of course his children are grown and so are mine.  There as many takes on this issue as there are types of relationships.

 Cheers, Jean                        Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

         I am at present in marriage failure, I have been in denial of it for several years.  Our agreements are, were, no put downs, no make wrong, no resentment.  It is my second marriage, and my second marriage failure.  The lucky ones are the children, there aren't any.

        Your quote from Christine indicates she is not in relationship, she is in entanglement.  The real losers will be, are, the children.  Having a kid is one point along the string of futile attempts to fix a non functioning relationship.  Others are have sex, get married, buy a house together, get tattooed with each others names, etc.  following this, are threats to leave, violence, suicide threats, and suicide.

John1                                          Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

        Ya know...i can appreciate her point.  But, I think it's about balance.  Clearly, one could WAY overdo it in either direction.  I think the culture tends to push us toward feeling guilty if we don't tilt it toward the kids, but maybe the culture needs to do that if it's gonna tilt one way or the other.
        Balance.  For what seems like such a straightforward concept, it's damned hard to find...and keep... on occassion.

John2                                        Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

         I basically agree with Christine's position. The family can't survive in these days of easy divorce for the benefit of children when the adult partners do not keep one another's well-being as their highest priority. Easy as divorce is, it always has incalculable negative effects on the children, so it doesn't pay to be child-centered to the point that one's adult partnership suffers and dissolves. When this happens the children are hurt and the after-effects can last throughout their entire lives. Considering the positive aspect of her position, it follows that when children see their parents in a satisfying, successful partnership, they develop a foundation of emotional security and learn a role model that they can use in their own future adult relationships.
        I suppose one can go so far in catering to the needs and wants of the parents that children could be neglected, but I have never seen a good and healthy relationship taken to such an absurd extreme in real life. Clearly Christine has a healthy, balanced marriage in mind.  It may be possible that the needs of the adults are pathological, and serving those needs can be destructive. In that case, the well-being of the children comes first to ensure their safety and survival.

K                                                Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

        My first thought when reading Christine's message was that a couple needs to put "God" first, be God-centered, make God the most important thing in their lives, then Couple-Centered.  I remember the saying, "The couple who prays together stays together."  I think that if a couple is truly living their life in harmony with the Universe, listening to their inner-voice, seeking spiritual guidance and so forth, that "All good things will come to those who love the Lord."  Keeping in mind that I am not of a specific faith (just reared in Christian upbringing, God forbid, ha,ha), when I refer to God I am referring to whatever form that takes for the particular individual.  I also think that we sometimes are "called" to be married, other times to be "divorced," other times to "parent," other times to "work", etc., etc.  It's only when we allow our judgments, our right-wrong thinking, of what we are "called to do" that we find ourselves in pain.

Kay                                            Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

        Since my wife and I are childless by choice I may be disqualified from this conversation, however, that does not mean I don't have an opinion on the subject!

The short answer for me is: depends. I have found in my life that nearly all of the decisions I make are contextual, and in my marriage the context has shifted from originally being self-centered to being couple-centered, evolving now to relationship-centered. Is this a standard developmental path? Who knows?! And because our relationship (we're within a month of completing 13 years together) continues to change and evolve over time, the way in which we approach major decisions affecting our relationship today is probably not the same as it was five or ten years ago. It is sort of like deferring to an elder in a way. Our relationship has its own wisdom and if we consciously check in with it, we usually make good decisions.

I know for example that I can pretty much "do anything I want" AND there is a price to pay if I choose to work a lot of hours and schedule activities in to my evenings so that my wife and I don't have as much time together as usual. The price is not that she gets angry or resentful, but rather that the quality of our relationship is diminished in a way. When we have less time together the resonance in the relationship suffers. I think this gives the lie to the old "quality time" myth. There is a lot to be said for just hanging out with no agenda, not necessarily even speaking,or being in the same room with each other, but just spending time together at home is nourishing us on more levels than we know. There are ryhthms and frequencies in being with someone that scientists have yet to discern, but poets seem to know rather intimately.

So when making decisions about what I want or what we want, we tend to consider how it will affect our relationship. Will it turn us toward or away from each other? Everything comes with an opportunity cost attached, so we check in to see if we are willing to bear that cost. Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes no, again it depends on a host of factors, nearly all of them contextual.

I suspect that your friend Christine, may be suffering a little from hindsight oversimplification with a touch of monocausalism. I am always suspicous when someone says "The most important" anything, because the most important anything always changes over time. At 45 the most important lessons in my life are very different from what they were 20 years ago (thank god!) and I suspect that if I am lucky enough to see 65, that the most important lessons of that age will be very different from what is happening today. I don't think there are any hard and fast rules about this type of thing. There are guiding principles that have their exceptions and each instance requires careful attention and sometimes more conversation than most of us are willing to engage in if we are to make the best choices.

Anyway there's my two cents worth off the top of my sleeply head.

Peace,  Ken                               Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

       I think the essence of cooperation is valuing relationship enough that you will stretch to hear, see, and feel what others hear, see, and feel. That might be with a partner, and it might be with a child, but either way it requires getting outside one's own perspective, and taking "other" into account on a regular basis.   It's my sense that that is the prime challenge of community.

Laird                                            Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

          Yes, I believe the couple should make each other their priority. The kids are only around for a limited time (albeit several years). However, the couple's relationship exists before and, hopefully, after the children have left the nest. As parents, while the children are still at home, the couple - as a unit - should focus on what is best for the kids, but I do not think it is wise for either partner to put consideration for the children ahead of consideration for their spouse.

Lorraine                                       Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

          Partnership relationships should definitely be partner centered, and parenting relationships should be child centered until the kids are adults.  And individuals have to have some individual time and interests, and the family unit needs attention.  So it is all a balancing act!

Marcia                                        Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

         sounds good to me!  I don't have or want kids
so a partner being the most important--fine!!
         but then again, I am learning that I am pretty damn important
so the most important person would have to be me!

Margaret1                                    Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

         I think that she says it when she says that a couple, making decisions with the good of the family in mind will be successful.  When a couple puts themselves first without regard to the children, the children will suffer.  If the children are put first, without much regard for each other, the children can become pawns or the battle field between the parents which is almost worse than their not being the focus at all.  When they are not lthe focus at all, if they have stamina and intelligence and some luck, they may be freer to develop and have successful lives than if they are burdened by the conflicts between their parents.

Margaret2                          Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

           A real family is family-centered, as an indivisible relational "we", and,  therefore, can never be exclusively couple-centered, or child-centered.  Where there is real love in a marriage, there is enough love to go around for everyone in the family, and where real love is absent, then competition for love becomes a selfish, egotistical, consideration, which is destructive to the  family sense of "we".
        Where there is real love, there is a sense of relational connection, bonding, belonging, as an experience of emotional closeness, and it is unthinkable that anyone who needs loving recognition, in a particular moment, would be overlooked

 Max & Barry                     Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

        Well I wish it was as simple as that.  That all it took was for the couple to focus on each other and everything would be "swell".  But the reality guys is simply this:  Men love women, and women love their children!   Don't kid yourself.  If both people are focusing on the kids, then everything seems just fine as far as the woman goes.  But if there is a conflict between attention, don't kid yourself, the woman's mammalian part of her brain kicks in and she will go unconscious with regard to anything else except what she immediately perceives as her kid's 'best interest'.  Partner be damned.  Long term planning be damned.  It takes an extraordinary woman to get beyond this automatic reflex.

Mick                                            Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

            I disagree.  Everyone needs to be respected equally, all of their needs and feelings need to be considered, discussed openly and honored.  How will a child be able to partner if it has been taught that it is less-than? Many of us were and now have difficulties with out relationships.

Miki                                     Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

        I like the question, so I shall respond.  I agree with Christine that in a good relationship, the partnership comes before the parenting.

        However, I can not agree with Christine's final statement that you should make the partner the most important person in your life.  For me, the most important person in my life must be me, not my partner.  After all, I live with me 24/7.  I came into this world alone, and so too will I leave it.  This is not to say that I only make decisions based on my needs alone.  I want relationship.  I even "need" it to better know and understand myself.  And my partner will be the most important "other" in my life.
         I say this because, part of the reason for the dissolution of my 20 year marriage, was because I put my partners needs ahead of my own for the sake of family unity.  I thought we were making decisions together, but in the end, he was not being truthful....often by what was left unsaid.  If I had taken into myself as much trust as I afforded him, I might have been more available to "see" what was actually going on underneath the surface.  I "knew" something was amiss in my life, but because my faith/trust etc. in him was greater than that of my own intuitive sense...I thought the sadness and confusion I felt must be because there was something "wrong" with me.  I never even considered that the relationship might be a cause of my confusion.  As you probably have gathered, my partner and I lived amicably together with very little conflict.

Nancy                                     Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

          I tend to look at life in eras. The marriage couple starts out in utter bliss just the two of them. It is "steady  dating" with commitment. They are basically enjoying one another to the utmost in their intimate relationship making the necessary adjustments of living together. Hopefully learning to respect one another as individuals yet being a whole entity.
        I'd much rather a couple be two whole oranges rather than each being a half. Don't rush into the children era before cementing this healthy relationship. Then comes children. The couple are partners in nurturing the children. No longer is it just us. Yet you don't just live for the children. That is not good for parents or children. So there must be times that it is just us as couples.
        When you've done your child raising era then it is just us again. Unless one or the other  has been in a freezer you find that each has changed over the years. You aren't just like you were walking down the aisle. Hopefully the couple has matured to accept that fact and make the necessary adjustments to live respectfully with each other.
        Now the children in adulthood must carve out their life. Yes the mother and father are there for them as needed and it is a time to enjoy as a couple the fruits of their labor in the past. I call these years as the Golden Years of the couple.
Thanks again Eric. I would appreciate any feed back.

Newt                                          Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

          This is not news.  Dear Abby (or her sister) wrote about this years ago, saying, but not directly quoting: If the parents are a couple, and the child sees them as one, the child will  adapt to almost any situation.  And I agree.

Norman                                            Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

       I suppose I would have to agree basically with Christine about ideally there being a full trusting, partner- centered relationship being present.  But to be honest, I have a hard time doing that sort of trusting now.
        My ex-wife and I came together both as professionals who were able to essentially free lance in our work arenas.  Both of us doing this allowed us to make a good living, not have to work a 40 hour week, and enjoy life.  At a certain point she wanted to have a child again (she already had a young teenage daughter via a prior marriage).  I was somewhat interested in the idea, but not as strongly as she was.  We talked and talked, and finally reached an agreement about getting pregnant and raising the child.
        Knowing that a baby really needs a full time mom, we agreed that when the baby was born my wife would stop her work so she could tend to our child full time up until it reached the age of about 5 and would be going into school.  I would take up the financial slack by moving into a full time, 40 hour a week, work situation.  Our agreement was that once our child was into school, my wife would then go back to work, more or less full time, and allow me a comparable sort of "time off" to investigate and develop new work avenues which I wanted to explore but which wouldn't necessarily pay much in the beginning.
        Well at the 5 year mark our young daughter went off to school and my wife was free.  But at that point she just didn't seem to have much interest in regular work and giving me the agreed upon time off.  She wanted to go ahead and explore her own career agenda.  I can't tell you how cheated I felt.  Long story made short... it was the beginning of the end of our marriage.
        Yes, Christine's idea about 'partner-centered' relationship is essentially a good one, IF you have a partner you can really trust.  Unfortunately I didn't and the result was a tremendous amount of pain all the way around.

Paul                                            Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

         Seems a little simplistic, to me.

        I've always believed--and still do--that our primary relationship is that with Self, as all others are colored, affected and defined through our subjective lens. To generalize in the way she has does not take into account that people have different and varying lessons, and we learn progressively, usually by experiencing first what love is NOT. I get the feeling that the writer is feeling as though she has failed in this relationship. I understand her reasoning and her belief that perhaps she did not focus on her partner enough. But the reasons why relationships end are myriad, rarely attributable to one particular thing.  We have karma with many people, and everything does not hang on a romantic involvement, however much we wish to believe it does. Relationships are assignments, and we may require a few or many.

Such is life on Bus Station Earth!

Randy                                      Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

           I have learned that one takes care of the self first, otherwise there is nothing to give to the relationship. That is, one needs to be an individual, not subservient except by fiat/choice. Second, the partners relationship, as it is longer lasting than child rearing, and a model for the child to emulate.  Third, it is being a parent.  I have said that any man can sire a child, but it takes a "Daddy" to be a parent.  In the old school terminology, "Papa!"  As a male, I cannot do more than give choice to women, no dicta!
        Again, the first, If I cannot respect/love/appreciate myself, I cannot do the same for others.

Ray                                           Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

        I agree as long as the partner does not neglect or abuse the children. If  children are ever at risk, their welfare must come first. however, in a good  relationship, the two parents will look after each other so that both have  positive, lasting energy to look after the children in a positive way.   Disciplining decisions should be privately discussed and agreed upon between  partners outside of the presence of the children and then each partner should support those decisions. If there exists a riff in thought, (ie. one parent believes in corporal punishment, one does not) literature and studies  should be examined in favor of BOTH by BOTH parents and then they should try to incorporate the method that seems least damaging to the child.
        Unfortunately, few parents are willing to read literature and studies that  do not support their point of view. In that case, it sort of proves my point that parents must be equally supportive of each other and open to different points of view and to learning new methods.
        I believe it all comes down to respect and gratitude. If you respect your partner as a person and are grateful for their love and presence, and they you; you will both work together and the family unit will follow the
unified  lead. Unfortunately in our 'the grass is greener on the other side'  philosophy of society at the moment, this kind of respect and gratitude is  unusual.

--S                                                Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

        Disagree -

The woman make the child the center, the man make the couple the center.  As the child of a Partner centered woman, not only did she loose alot, but so did her children.

Sharon                                           Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

          I certainly have some thoughts on this.   First, people have so many ideas of what "child-centered" means, that I can't definitely evaluate Christine's statement without further discussion on what she means!  And second, I find it telling that she describes couple-centered and child-centered as complements, without using the term parent.

        For example, to some people, being child-centered means that they give into the tyranny of what society or the child hirself thinks is needful.  Either of these views isn't likely to serve the child or the couple, but they are popular interpretations of "child-centered."

        In addition, so much depends on the couple.  If, for example, both parents are wise and secure parents who "get" kids, of course the decisions they make will naturally involve their right-relationship to their children, as they make the decisions for themselves.  There will be no conflict.  In this sense, yes, a couple-centered relationship is always the most healthy   -- if it really means parent-centered...;)

        However, if one or both parents is damaged, selfish, or otherwise needy in ways that make parenting an insecure thing, they can feel their needs strongly competing egoically with the needs of the child(ren).  This can cloud the parent's and as a result the couple's idea of what is good for them, and what is good for the children.  If child-centered means neurotically focussing on the needs of the child to the neglect of the co-parent, then of course, it is a problem.

        Thinking of the children *first* may be a tool or sanity check for immature parents who might be more likely to go off on weird tacks that do not serve the family as a whole.  However, immature parents are probably also those most likely to have relationship issues with their spouse.

        But thinking of the couple first may lead to self-involved parents who see the children as a sort of proper social add-on, burden, impediment, regrettable, and so on.  It's another form of ego-bound neurosis.

        If there is an issue of survival and crisis, by all means the adults should "put on their oxygen masks first," and see to the kids after they know they are in shape to care for them.  If the parents are not able to care for themselves, they can not care for their children.

        So in that sense, the couple comes first -- because without the couple, the family dissolves.

        However, if the parents not caring for themselves is a chronic, rather than acute/circumstantial/crisis event, then the entire family is in danger, and community or counseling or extended family help should be called in!

        I suppose my best thought is that relationships should be FAMILY centered.  The family is a "holon" -- it doesn't consist of a couple and their children, but of the many balanced relationships of one-to-one, and some-to-one, and many-to-many -- and all of those relationships as modified by outside influences.  In an ideal situation, the dynamic should flow in focus from couple-centered to child-centered, perhaps sometimes other-to-child-centered, sometimes father-to-child-centered, and so on organically, by circumstance.  It's a dance.

        That being easier said than done, I think there is no one answer except to see why things are not working for the family, and use introspection and honesty to try to make things better.

        My son knows that his needs come into play in all family decisions, but ultimately it is the parents' decisions on his behalf, which he may not always understand, that take preference over his wishes.  A sample decision involves bedtime -- it's very clear to him that one of the reasons he can't just stay up late, even if it were ok for him in terms of sleep, is that late evening is Big People Time, and we need our own time for our own activities.  Beyond a point, this is simply not negotiable, and we have good boundaries set.

        As a counter example, his biological father and I divorced when he was very small, because he had a birth defect that required either lots of nursing care, or abdominal surgery.  I wanted to avoid surgery, but his father felt that the extra time with an ailing baby was taking time away from him.  In that crisis, I still believe that spending time with the child was the correct answer, however, my ex's need led him to find another woman to
spend couple-time with, rather than helping me care for his son.  In his case, he just wasn't cut out for fatherhood, and couldn't know until he was there.  My son has since grown into an uncoddled, secure, independent  (sometimes cussedly so...;) gifted 9 year old, in a household that gives profound consideration to childrens' needs, but considers them only part of the needs of the household.

        To my mind, the biggest conflict can be work-centered vs family-centered dynamics, which to me seem far harder to resolve.  I have a possibly irrational belief that adults of good will can resolve conflicts within a couple, but it seems hard to insulate our relationships from the demands of the outside world.

        I personally grew up with a stay-at-home mom, and now as a single mother, I have a small intentional community helping me raise my son -- yet it still seems that so much of the adult time goes into working, paying bills, and various activities that are hard to integrate kids into -- it seems my child hardly gets any adult time, compared to what I got as a child!

Good luck in your investigations into this question!

Shava                                         Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

        We feel that God/Goddess/Spirit is the center of our relationship, then our own selves, then each other, then our child. Now, I have to say that we were very child focused during the first two to three years of our child's life because it is what felt most right and appropriate. For it is during that time that she was forming her image, awareness and relationship with God/Goddess/Spirit.

Thanks for asking.

Susan and Chris                            Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

        As you will see from my response below this questions points at an issue that i have strong feelings about. I don't really know what is meant by "center"- and without any sense of the people asking the questions i recognize that i am just projecting and that my response is probably not in relationship to the one asking. but maybe you will find it interesting or helpful anyway.
        I don't think a healthy relationship should be either children centered or couple centered.  I especially think that the couple centric model is a psychologically infantile model that needs to be out grown. What unfortunately happens, when the model of couple centric fails, is that the usual compensation is to place the child in the center (usually as an extension of oneself (ones own inner-child that never got the love they needed - (who did?)) - which is rarely ever about the child or their real needs.   I believe that relationships at their best foster individuation instead of trying to find a symbiotic place where "the couple makes their decisions together". Not because it is some horrible or bad idea - but because it just is never true. The problem with the united front is that it usually creates a power imbalance in the relationship (it encourages and fosters emotional denial and does not encourage deep truth telling). And i might add, in a predominately male centric society it is usually the women who suffer most from this inherent  power imbalance.
        My parenting partner and i discuss many issues, disagree profoundly in some areas, find common ground in others.  When it comes to raising our children we try to take not only our own opinions (which are occasionally just covers for our own patterns of fear)  and balance them with the opinions of others who love and care for our children. There is no united front. The children get to witness and participate in the variety of options and choices and we guide them and ourselves towards what seems like the best possible solution in any given situation.
        This is also true of my personal relationships. I try to love with a generous amount of spaciousness and an unyielding commitment to what is best for each individual. Which i might ad creates plenty of fear and insecurity. But every bit worth it. There are no simple answers. People are beautiful and complex. Lives lived well are beautiful and complex.
        AS a women, who has had in the past the habit of placing just about everything besides my own life "central" i would encourage your friend (while she finds herself single) to take some time to place herself central. It a beautiful and frightening and liberating experience. I would also hold to this belief when discussing community. I do not believe in Tribal Consciousness. I have no desire to go back to the mythological matriarchal time when we were all of one united mind - where the individual was sacrificed to the good of the group.  I believe we have lived through that time and emerged as a species destined towards individuation and co-creation (which should not be confused with individualism -  that  close cousin to narcissism). (Which taken to far has its own set of problems.)
        I think we stand on the threshold of an incredible time in history - a time when the matriarchal and patriarchal (masculine/feminine) archetypes can be brought together in love and celebration.  I believe that individuality can and should be embraced within the community context - but not at the expense of either.  I long for a time when diversity and uniqueness is honored and respected and even cultivated - within ones relationships, families and ultimately ones community.
        I would love to see others responses.  Would you forward them to me?  thanks for the question.have a beautiful day.

Susan                                                    Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

        Season's Greetings from the great white north! Hope all is well.  In response to relationships and their center, although the women has come to a new understanding which includes her partner I wonder if the center of a relationship may be in recognizing that all beings in the family unit be the center so the relationship is as that of one.  Just a thought!

Susan D P                                             Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

         Everyone has needs, from the parents to the children. The dance is in creating that quality of connection between everyone which encourages everyone's needs to get met, not some at the expense of others.  I would refer you to the work of Marshall Rosenberg (, creator of "Nonviolent Communication" or "Compassionate Communication".   In this work, no one is higher or lower; there is no domination or submission of anyone to anyone or to any ideals.  When Christine says "with the family in mind" I hear her talking about what would meet everyone's needs.  This is the focus.  In a family in which the parents have needs, express them, and ask that they be fulfilled, while also engaging with the children in a way which values the children's needs equally, the children have an opportunity to learn how to identify, own, take responsibility for, and value their own needs.
        I lead a practice group in NVC in Laguna Beach, California.

-- regards,  Upgeya                              Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects


        I don't know how I came to be on this list, but I rarely shrink from offering an  opinion when invited. Sometimes, believe it or not, I opine even without being  asked! :)
        I'm sympathetic to Christine's feelings about losing her marriage, but I don't think  it's wise to deliberately try to prioritize any family relationships.  That's like favoring one leg of a three-legged stool.
        Marriage partners bring their individual characteristics to the family, and not all individuals thrive in an intimate environment of more than two. Trying to make these folks fit requires increasingly bigger hammers, and hammering doesn't help anyone.
        This isn't to say that every family is a perfect whole, of course. Core families are artificial systems--as opposed to natural ones--because we didn't evolve as a  monogamous species. Our simian forebears relied on the group to rear children, and we have inherited their DNA--and their instincts.
         The one instinct we have in common with many other animals is the primacy of the mother-child relationship. Without the nurturing of the mothers, no species could survive.
        Instinctive father-child relationships are quite different. Indeed, the competition between father and child for the attention of the mother is prominent, not only in humans, but in many other species. The instinctual role of the father is to strengthen the species, not to nurture the individual child.

Don W.                                           Return to top   Return to Names    Return to Subjects

Copyright  Eric N. Best, Ph.D.   December 28, 2002  (C)