My Separated Husband Says That Things Might Change If I Learned To Put Him First

By: Leslie Cane: If you are separated and if you are lucky, you might have a good idea of what it might take to get your spouse (and your marriage) back. You may know this because your husband has come right out and told you. Many separated spouses do spell this out. However, knowing what you have to do and actually successfully carrying it out can be two very different things. For example, a separated husband may tell you that he wants you to act in a certain way. In response, you may believe that you are already doing what he asks or you think that what he asks is not realistic.

Here is one example. A wife might ask her husband what she can do to get him to come back home or to consider a reconciliation. He may tell her that he wants to “be first” in her life. This may sound pretty straightforward when, from the wife’s perspective, it is not. Here’s what you might hear: “if you did not know me and you listened to my husband, you might think that I was a selfish and neglectful wife and this is just not the case. We have three children who are close in age. We made the decision for me to stay home because daycare was going to be so expensive. My husband is a good father who loves his children. But sometimes, he seems a bit jealous of all of the time that I devote to them. And make no mistake, a lot of time is required when you are a parent. Sometimes, my husband will get home and be annoyed that dinner wasn’t ready. Or he’ll be frustrated when I am too tired to have sex. He kept hinting about how unhappy and lonely he was until he finally initiated a separation and moved out. We still talk a lot. He calls me regularly and he comes over to spend time with the kids. Last week, we went out to lunch while the kids were at school. We were actually having a great time. We were laughing and were pretty relaxed and then the school called saying that one of my kids was in the nurse’s office and needed to be picked up. I told me husband that I was sorry, but that I needed to pick our child up. My husband got annoyed and asked if my mother could pick him up. My mother had minor surgery the day before and was therefore on pain killers. I did not like the idea of my medicated mom driving my child, so I told my husband that it was necessary for me to go. He sighed heavily and said ‘things are never going to change until you learn to put me first for once.’ I was devastated by this and think that it is really unfair. I was in a no-win situation. I felt like I was being pulled in opposite directions and asked to choose between my son and my husband. I mean, my husband is my son’s father and he seemed more concerned about himself than about his own sick child. I too wish that we could just spend a carefree afternoon together, but we are parents. And that sometimes means putting your own needs last. So while I’d love to do as my husband asks so that we can possibly reconcile, I feel like he’s not being realistic. Sure, I could try to put the kids on the back burner for a while, but what happens when eventually I have to be a parent? Sure, sometimes you can put your spouse first, but as a parent, you have to put your kids first sometimes.”

I understand what you are saying, but I don’t think that your husband actually expects you to put parenting after your marriage. I think that, instead, he’s trying to communicate to you that sometimes HE FEELS dead last in your priorities. And, from my own experience, I know that if you make a consistent effort to make your spouse feels as if his happiness and wellbeing is very important to you, then he will have a higher tolerance for other things that take up your attention. In short, if you can make a few adjustments that make your husband feel as you make him a regular priority, then he will have more patience when you have to shift your priorities.

I know that this sounds simplistic, but in my experience and observation, what spouses are really saying with these types of complaints is that they want to feel that they matter greatly to you. They want to have confidence that you are deeply invested in how and what they are feeling. They want to know that you understand what is important to them.  They want you to make the time.  I know that this sounds like a tall order, but there are small things that you can do that can really make a difference. Give him a bit of your undivided attention when he comes home from work or after you put the kids to bed. Try to arrange to go out alone once a week or so that your existence as a couple is not only based on your kids. I know that it’s a huge challenge, but try to carve out some couple time as often as if feasible. If he sees you making these efforts, he will be less frustrated and will no longer be looking for examples where you put the kids first.

Another suggestion is to have him participate more in opportunities to be alone with the kids. Often, husbands really don’t know how much work and time goes into this. If you take a day every so often for yourself, he will come to appreciate just how much time and energy is required of you when you parent. Therefore, he will have more empathy when you are tired or conflicted because of having to parent.  Often, you can’t possibly know what someone else’s reality is until you walk in their shoes.

In small, gradual, and sincere ways, you want to show him just how much he DOES matter to you.  Once he believes this, he will no longer need to keep track of who gets the most of your attention.  I had to shift my own priorities after my husband and I reconciled because I never wanted to be separated again.  There’s more about our reconciliation on my blog at

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