Juggling all the responsibilities of marriage, children, home and work can leave you feeling torn. But dividing your time and attention between your spouse and your kids can feel like a downright tug of war. Your kids need you. They need love, attention, guidance, support and protection. But your mate needs you too. So what do you do?

Putting your marriage before your children may seem counter intuitive, or even selfish, but it is often necessary to ensure the health of your relationship for the sake of your entire family. Keeping your marriage strong and staying connected through the child-rearing years is invaluable in teaching your children how to handle their own future spousal and parenting duties.

But make sure the priority of your family is the spousal relationship, not necessarily the person themselves. You don't want to pit one person against another. And giving in to the whims of either your child or your spouse can create unhealthy dynamics. Remember to do what benefits the marriage on the whole first. Then you can give your kids a stable, loving environment to thrive in.

1. Model healthy relationships

Putting your marriage first will help model healthy relationships for your kids. You are the foremost influence in your child's life. They are not going to learn the ins and outs of healthy relationships from television, the Internet or their peers. They're going to learn it from you. So teach them what you want them to know about love, marriage and parenting. Let them live in the environment you'd want them to create for themselves.

2. Create balance

Putting too much focus on any one area at the expense of another will leave you feeling drained and inadequate at some point. Even the most experienced super-moms feel the tension each facet of their life puts on the tightrope. But balance is the key. If the kids are the center of your life, you will likely be an excellent parent. But you may end up a single parent. You can't sacrifice and replace the relationship that created the children in the first place for the new additions. Add them to the roster, and put in 100 percent, but remember who your star player is.

3. Be an effective parent

You and your spouse are a team, and a united front, whether you two are together or not. Parenting in the shared home and co-parenting between homes can only be effective if both people are on the same page and working toward the same goals. If the focus gets shifted from creating a healthy dynamic between the role models in the family to those who will eventually reflect the values portrayed, you will not be sending a singular, harmonious message. Sending your kids mixed messages about what to expect of them, how to behave in society, and how to behave in the home will breed unnecessary conflict. Get the lesson guide ironed out, then teach the class.

4. Understand immediacy and importance

We often confuse short-term need with long-term gain in considering who to give our attention. Unless it's an emergency, chances are whatever your child is whining, screaming, complaining about can wait, if only for a few minutes. It may or may not be important, but probably isn't immediate. Your spouse's needs are likely important, and may also not be immediate. But the longevity of your marriage can be measured by how quickly you respond to notifications, requests, or crises. Your children will always be your children. This is for all intents and purposes a permanent status. Your spouse has more options, and is not required to remain so. Marriage is optional. So put a little star next to your spouse's entries on the laundry list. Get those done first, and they'll be a much bigger help for what's left.

5. Prioritize the relationship

Putting your spouse first doesn't necessarily mean putting the person first. It is more about putting the marriage first, and making that sacred union between yourself and your chosen life-partner your priority. What is best for the marriage may not be what's easiest or most important for either individual. But on the whole, if you build your marriage around what will help each individual grow healthier and stronger, and what will help the marriage grow healthier and stronger, you will more easily be able to translate this into what will make your entire family grow healthier and stronger.

Before the birth of their second child, my good friends bickered long and hard about who got more attention, the father or the son. One of the first things I told the wife was, "The marriage has to come first." I urged her to teach her son to be more independent of her, and see her as a guidance force, not his mouthpiece. She didn't understand that seeing her son as helpless and incapable was creating an unhealthy dynamic for every single person in the family, including the marriage itself.

Putting the kids before everything else, including yourself and your marriage, feels natural because children can appear helpless, and are experts at appealing to your care-taking nature. But being an awesome parent at the expense of being an awesome spouse may leave you a single parent. The relationship between two lovers who've taken the leap into holy matrimony does not die when children are born. Keep the fire going between you and your mate. The children can wait 20 minutes for dinner, an hour for the park or a day for their play date.

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