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I've spent almost thirty years helping couples resolve their arguments, turn around their relationships, and fall back in love again. I've written eleven books, answered countless letters to my website, given talks, and appeared on numerous radio and TV shows. However, in all that time, I've never really addressed one of the most fundamental issues that is driving so much of the misery I encounter: how to stop your children from ruining your marriage. My silence is not because I've got nothing to sayas you'll discover, I've got a whole bookbut because I know from experience that most parents don't want to hear my message. Unfortunately, it goes against much of our contemporary culture and all the received wisdom. So I scout around the edges, approach the problems from another angle, and deal with the fallout. What, then, has made me finally decide to speak out?
Every hour at my practice in London, the doorbell rings and a couple or an individual sits opposite me and pours out feelings. On one occasion, I had a thirty-one-year-old woman sobbing about her parents' divorce more than twenty years ago and why she couldn't find a lasting relationship. Even though she was a top-flight government adviser, it felt like I had a small child in the room as she looked up from her pile of crumpled tissues and asked, 'Why did nobody think about me?'
My next clients were a deeply unhappy couple, on the point of divorcing, who were fighting about weekend joint-custody visits. He thought she was turning their three children against him. She was angry that he was bailing out of their marriagehe had found another womanwithout even trying to sort out their differences. Suddenly, I had a mental fast-forward to twenty years later and saw one of this couple's daughters sitting in the seat opposite me. Despite my clients doing everything in their power for their children to be happy, confident, and successful (the best schools, extensive extracurricular activities, and all the latest gadgets), they had exhausted first their marriage and then themselvesso running away and starting again seemed the only way for the husband to reclaim his identity. What made this story doubly tragic is that they used to have such a happy relationship.
When we explored what went wrong, the problems could be traced back to choices made when their children were small. I knew from my work with the single client mentioned above that her fear that she was 'too much for anyone to handle' was a result of decisions made by her parents during this key point in time, too: when their daughter was a small child. On the train home that night, I decided to break my silence and write this book so that I could help people protect their marriages and avoid turning their children into my future clients.
There's another reason I haven't written about parenting before. I've never had children, so what right do I have to give advice? I've had no firsthand experience in arguing about whose turn it is to get up for the baby, what time small children should go to bed, or how to stop teenagers from smoking. However, I am an expert on relationships. I know how easy it is to lose sight of being husband and wife when you become Mommy and Daddy and how that breeds not only unhappy parents but fractious and desperate kids. Time and again, the first sign that my clients have turned the corner in therapy is when they report that their children are much happier, because kids thrive when their parents are in harmony and tackle problems as a team. In addition, after thousands of hours listening to adults talk about their childhood, I also have a clear idea of what can go wrong and how to help your children grow up to be happy, balanced, and resilient.
If you've recently had a baby, this book will give you a sense of the road ahead and how to avoid the pitfalls. I also cover the effect on your family of the second child and subsequent children. If your family is complete and your children are older, my argument is just as relevant whether they are eighteen months or eighteen years old. Please don't skip the early chapters, though, because they will help you diagnose where any problems might have started and direct your energy toward where it will be most effective.
Ultimately, this is a positive book. Having children is a great opportunity to grow and change. It can help put pain from your own childhood behind you and bring you closer to your own parents. It can also deepen the bond with your partner, because there's nothing more awesome than creating a new life together. However, you do need good relationship skills and to know how to communicate effectively, even when you're tired and stressedin fact, especially then! But don't worry, I have lots of practical advice and tips that will help you talk, listen to each other, and find a solution that's acceptable to both of you. There's also information on how to foster a great relationship with your children and therefore provide good emotional support. At the end of each chapter, there is specific advice on how to strengthen your relationship with your partner, and because I know you are busy and juggling lots of different tasks, I've summed everything up in ten golden rules (which are at the end of the book).
Although I've used the word marriage in the subtitle for this book, I don't think you have to be married to have a secure relationship or raise happy children. It's just that marriage makes it clear what kind of relationship I'm discussing. I also want to stress that this book is just as much for fathers as for mothers; both women and men can feel that their partners put them last. Unfortunately, there's a tendency in our society (I'm thinking particularly of politicians) to blame everything on mothers. No wonder mothers can feel under attack and sometimes hear criticism when none is intended. So let me be clear: I believe in equal parenting responsibilities, and when relationships hit a problem, it is generally six of one partner and half a dozen of the other.
The case histories come from my practice as a marriage counselor as well as interviews with mothers and fathers not in counseling. I have changed details and sometimes merged two or three cases so nobody can be recognized. Finally, I would like to thank my clients for their generosity in allowing me to share what we have learned together.
Andrew G. Marshall
©2014. Andrew G. Marshall. All rights reserved. Reprinted from I Love You But You Always Put Me Last. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.