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Take Heart: A Father's Perspective - Co-parenting strengthens marriage

"What God has joined together, let no one separate." Mark 10:6-9

I feel compelled to talk about the broken state of relationships in today's society and my hopes for those relationships to be repaired and renewed. This reparation would help adults and children whose lives are forever influenced by their parents' every interaction.

After researching our nation's marital statistics, I'm saddened to say that almost 50 percent of today's marriages end within five years. It is hard to imagine the pain and suffering children endure when their parents separate.

I have had many dads ask me for relationship advice. They wonder what has caused their relationship to erode. Looking around, I wonder if most marriages fail from loss of faith, financial pressure or the tendency in our world to walk away from problems rather than stay and work to repair a relationship.

I truly believe we can turn this all around.

One thing men can do to improve the state of their marriage... pursue your spouse.

That's right; pursue your spouse, your girlfriend, the one you love. We get into a zone in our relationships and forget to date, woo and cuddle with the one we love.

As that affection begins to wane, so does your need to stay together. If you loved your spouse each day like it was the last day you were going to be on this earth, your relationship would be one of deep trust, intimacy and love.

Moms and dads, something you can do for each other... put your spouse before your children.

Yes, you read that right; put your spouse before your children.

That may seem like heresy because our children deserve all of our best, but the two of you brought forth this child who is half of each of you. Your child deserves to see you in a healthy, satisfying relationship.

Look back at the beginning of your relationship... before you had kids, when that puppy love phase was in full effect and when you thought constantly of your mate. Your thoughts revolved around making each other happy.

Then came kids, and even though you thought you couldn't love someone more than you loved your spouse, you found your heart was expandable beyond your wildest dreams. You started putting your time into your child's many needs and perhaps your spouse became second in your life.

In no way am I saying to ignore your kids, but when your spouse feels second in your relationship, they may feel neglected. That feeling begins as a small hole in their heart, but the longer they feel their emotional needs go unfulfilled, that hole expands and sometimes erodes the love that built a strong foundation.

At the FATHER Project, we encourage co-parenting because we know the best outcome for children is a two-parent home. Stressing the importance of understanding our spouses and loving them unconditionally is something we discuss.

Love your mate as though they may be gone tomorrow. Imagine a world where couples date 30 years into their relationship as if everything is still fresh and new. If spouses work together to care for one other's needs, that deep love will trickle down to children, and their needs would be met tenfold from our examples.

Sometimes in order to move forward, we need to look back to see where we have lost ourselves. We need to bring ourselves back to the present and love unconditionally like Christ has loved us: without judgment, flaw or selfishness...without an end in sight.

Editor's note: Joe Johnson and his wife Amanda have two children. He is a licensed master trainer/consultant for St. Joseph's Area Health Services Community Health Nurturing Fathers Program and is a case manager for the FATHER Project, a program funded by Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota. To learn more about participating in Fathering Skills classes, call him at 255-2063 or e-mail josephjohnson@catholic