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reducing family stress by

re-ordering family priorities

20 marriage to m | summe r 2008

by Jimmy Evans


Many people say the right words to their spouses about their
love and devotion, but they never demonstrate that love and
devotion in real terms. Therefore, the violated spouse is
seldom comforted by “empty” words and promises.
Marriage was created by God to be the first priority in your
life, with the exception of your relationship with Him. And
while you may verbally insist that you love your spouse, here
are four ways priorities are proven in what I call “real” terms:

SACRIFICE —If your spouse is a priority to you, then you

should be willing to sacrifice things of “lower” priority for
him or her. If he or she is not a priority, then they will be
the ones sacrificed for your real priorities.
At the same time, being unwilling to sacrifice is the root
issue of why so many people live under enormous stress
and constant and unyielding time demands.
Remember the priority God gave marriage in Genesis 2?
When He said we would have to be willing to leave our
parents for the sake of our marriage, He wasn’t telling us
that forsaking our parents would always be required. He
was telling us that if there were a priority conflict between
The typical American’s day is filled to over- our parents and our marriage, then we would have to be
willing to sacrifice our relationship with our parents to
flowing with things that shout, and occa- protect our marriage.
sionally scream for attention. The demands Parents, work, children, school activities, friends, church,
of work, clubs, friends, church and com- sports—all of it is competing for attention.
But without a clear, set list of priorities—and the willingness
munity have most couples stretched to to sacrifice things of a lower priority to protect the higher
the breaking point. ones—you will live under constant stress as the lesser
priorities rob you of the most precious things in life.
The fact is, we’re living in the busiest, To conquer the stress that comes from constant conflicts
most stress-filled times in history. And that among priorities, you simply must come to the point of
stress is choking the life and joy out of realizing you cannot “have it all.” The penalty of trying to
have it all is losing your health, happiness and relationships
countless marriages. with God and your family.
Here are three powerful keys to properly Therefore, accept the fact that you cannot have everything
or do everything in life, and decide right now that you are
ordering your family priorities and managing going to sacrifice the less important things in life to keep
the stress of 21st-Century family living. the most important things healthy. »

summe r 2008 | marriage to m 21

making lasting things the main thing (cont’d)

TIME —Time is the commodity of rela- deal of time together, but they do it with PROTECT YOUR MARRIAGE
tionships, and it must be distributed the wrong attitude. They start acting as FROM “LOWER” PRIORITIES
according to priority. though pursuing each other and meeting
For example, if God is truly first- one another’s needs is a “ball and chain” Most of the things that ruin a marriage
place in your life, then you will honor that they are sentenced to drag with are not “bad” things. They are simply
the Sabbath Day without complaint. them through life. Their attitude trans- good things that are out of priority.
But if you are only giving lip service to lates as rejection for their spouse. Work, children, family, friends, hob-
God and something else really has His You may not realize it, but you com- bies—none of these are bad. Yet, any
place in your life, then you will not municate to everyone around you what of them can destroy a marriage.
observe the Sabbath to pursue Him, your “real” priorities in life are by an Take children as an example. They
and you will chafe at the obligation. attitude of desire and delight. Rejection are a blessing from God, but they are
The same applies to your spouse. and lower priorities are revealed through not as important as your marriage—
If your husband or wife is truly a your attitude of apathy and obligation— which is a surprise to many parents.
priority, then you will give him or her Do I really have to do this?… Well, OK. Certainly, you must highly prioritize
a dedicated and protected amount of your children. You must love and care
your time. If you do not hold the rela- ENERGY —Priorities must include all for them. But your parenting will only
tionship at that higher level of priority, the assets of life to be genuine. If you be for 18 or so years. Your marriage,
then you will complain when your are telling your spouse, “Oh, Sweetheart, on the other hand, will last a lifetime.
spouse requires—or demands—your you know you are number one in my When Karen and I first married, there
time. I believe that this is the most life…” but you are withholding the en- were no children in our home compet-
telling sign when the priority of a mar- ergy that it takes to keep him or her in ing for our time and attention. Today,
riage has failed. And the results are very that place, then you are lying. You are we do not have children in our home,
evident… you “fall in love” when you holding back from your spouse in order because our kids are grown and mar-
spend time with your spouse. You “fall to give to something or someone else. ried. While we have a wonderful rela-
out of love” when you don’t. Again, people “fall in love” because tionship with them, they want to live
they do whatever it takes to give their their own lives. They don’t want us
relationship the time and energy it intruding.
needs. They sacrifice. They pour into My point is that Karen and I are
their relationship at the expense of grateful we made the sacrifices necessary
everything else. to raise good children. But we are also
The reason people “fall out of love” grateful that we didn’t sacrifice our
is because they get lazy. They stop work- marriage for them by letting them come
ing at the relationship and then wonder before us. In doing so, our children saw
why it doesn’t work. us “in love” and they grew up in a home
ATTITUDE —When a man and woman Your energy—your supply—is essen- with a stable marriage that provided a
first meet, they not only “prioritize” tial in making your relationship with solid foundation and example for them.
each other, but they also demonstrate your spouse successful, and keeping it The problem with sacrificing your
an attitude of pleasure about it. first-place in real terms. marriage for the sake of your children
Oftentimes, however, after a man and is that it is shortsighted and sets you
woman marry, they may not have prior- and your children up for dysfunctional
ities that are more important than each relationships.
other, and they may even spend a great

22 marriage to m | summe r 2008

BUDGET “TIME” THE SAME constantly borrowing time from God,
AS YOU WOULD MONEY his wife, his children, his friends, and
others, to pay people time that he didn’t
Violated priorities and stressed-out lives need to be paying them.
are almost always accompanied by a host The bottom line was, he was deep
of lame excuses and empty promises. in debt to the “important” people in
Yes, our intentions may be good, but his life because he continued to allow
they never seem to translate into reality. the “less” important people to rob him
Why? of his assets—time. It was as though
You and your spouse must Oftentimes, it’s because we are poor he were out buying an expensive suit
work together to establish time managers. of clothes with the money he should
the standards and traditions For example, I have a friend who was have been using to pay his last month’s
always late to everything. As a result, electric bill. It will eventually get you
that will keep your priorities he was forever “in trouble” with his wife, into trouble.
protected and your relation- his kids, his employer, and so on. The greater priorities in life are owed
Now, I’ve never met a man who was first and must be paid regularly. Ruined
ship healthy. a better person at heart, yet, a more marriages are often the result of very
miserable liar when it came to appoint- sincere people who became bankrupt
Look at it this way: If you earned a ments or being faithful to what he said. in their relationships because they
million dollars a year and received great One day, my friend was very late for didn’t budget their time prudently. The
honor in doing so, but went home at an appointment with me. When he stresses and demands of life dictated
the end of each day to a terrible mar- showed up, he gave me the same old their behavior.
riage—what good would all that money excuse, “I’m sorry—I just didn’t realize Rather than being proactive and de-
be? We all know that when our marriage my last appointment would take so long.” ciding in advance what they would and
is rotten, it doesn’t really matter what Though I was frustrated with him, I would not do, they reacted and became
else is good in life, because we’re still realized he was caught in a trap and victims of a stressed-out, undisciplined
miserable. didn’t know how to get out. So, I taught lifestyle.
So, regardless of what delights or him something that day—which, ac- To keep your marriage and life
demands come into your life, one of cording to him, revolutionized his life. healthy and free from harmful stress,
the disciplines of a successful marriage I told my friend that if time were budget your time as you would your
is to protect the priority of your marriage money, he would be bankrupt. money. You can do that by listing on a
against the “bad” and “good” things that With a background in business, he piece of paper the most important peo-
seek to violate the position of your understood the analogy. I explained ple and things in your life.
spouse in your life. how time is a limited commodity, just
like money. But, unlike money, we all Your list might look something like this:
have the same amount of time. And if • God
we want to end up in the “profit” mar- • my spouse
gin, then we must balance our assets • my children
against our expenses. • me
Then I told my friend how everyone • church
around him was frustrated with him • work
and why. I helped him see how he was • my friends »

summe r 2008 | marriage to m 23

making lasting things the main thing (cont’d)

You must also set a good essary to meet our children’s needs and The sad truth is that society is unrav-
accommodate their interests, the reality eling before us. While our children have
example for your children by is that we live in a “driven” culture. never had so much and have never been
managing your schedules Parents often escort their children able to do so much, neither have they
from school… to sports… to music had greater opportunity to be so empty
properly, so you have “quality” lessons… to entertainment… to their and so confused.
time and energy for each oth- friends’ house…to shopping…. Parents realize that behind that emp-
er as well as for your children. It’s a never-ending cycle of packed tiness and confusion is the lack of moral
schedules—and the stress that comes and practical guidance from us, their
with it. moms and dads.
After making your list, take out a The stress doesn’t just affect the chil- Don’t allow your children to become
calendar and—beginning with your dren, however. It affects the entire family, so busy because it keeps them “out of
most important priorities—schedule especially mom and dad’s marriage. your hair” for a while. That’s a wrong
regular, dedicated time for them. Before long, the joy of life is robbed, motive. Computers, movies, television,
The further down the list you get, and family relationships begin to fall friends, activities—nothing can take
the more you’ll likely see that it doesn’t apart because there is no quality time your place.
take long before you run out of time. or energy left for each other. The dreams To sum it all up—do whatever it
That’s usually when it dawns on you of peaceful, intimate family times are takes to create a lifestyle that allows
that you’ve been robbing time from the robbed by a lack of time management you to love and prioritize your spouse
most important people in your life… combined with the desire to “have it all” and your children in real terms… and
only to give it to less important things —and for our children to “have it all.” on a regular basis. Because, your home
on your list. You and your spouse must work to- is where you will find the real joy in
Just as with financial budgeting, you gether to establish the standards and life. Nothing else can take the place of
have to make difficult choices some- traditions that will keep your priorities home in your heart.
times in order to be successful. And, protected and your relationship healthy. Your marriage is the most important
yes, that means some of your desires You must also set a good example for relationship you’ll ever have on this
will go undeveloped. Some friendships your children by managing your sched- earth. God made it that way. But for it
will go unattended. Some interests will ules properly, so you have “quality” time to be the success you—and He—want
go unpursued. Some demands will go and energy for each other as well as for it to be, you must make it a high priority.
unmet. Still, the most important people your children. You must dedicate and protect the re-
on your list must be paid regularly with But don’t stop there. Train your chil- sources necessary for a successful mar-
the time that is due them. That’s the dren to do the same. You want them to riage. Only then can you calm the stress
only way you can ensure lasting success be blessed with a full and fun life, but and relieve the pressure that is out to
and happiness in marriage, and in life. you must understand that their relation- destroy it.
What’s more, you must also teach ship with God and family is the essential
your children to budget their time prop- foundation for their true happiness and
erly and to make the necessary sacrifices. success, just as it is with yours.
As never before, families are being No matter how good your children
stressed out by the constant demands, may be at gymnastics or soccer, or how
desires and opportunities of their chil- popular they are among their friends,
dren. Again, while we as parents have their happiness is mostly dependent
the responsibility to sacrifice when nec- upon the quality of their home life.

24 marriage to m | summe r 2008