04/16/2012 10:41 am ET Updated Jun 16, 2012

The Marriage First Household

My marriage is the most important relationship in my life. Yes, the most important.

My husband and I existed as a couple long before we decided to have children. And on the day (God willing) when all four of our kids make their way as independent citizens of the world, Bryan and I will once again live in a household of two. In the meantime, we don't like the idea of waiting until the year 2034 to make our marriage a priority.

To quote Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham of Downton Abbey: "Marriage is a long business."

I propose a "marriage first household" to make that business a happy one!

Eight Ways to Put Your Marriage First:

1. Spend time together without the kids. Do whatever it takes to get out of the house and leave the kiddos behind. Hire babysitters, ask grandparents, or share babysitting duties with your siblings and neighbors. Do not waste precious years "finding the time." You have to make the time.

2. Close the laptop. Shut down the smart phone. Turn off the TV. You can't always get out of the house for a date with your spouse, but while you're together at home, at least focus on each other some of the time. This might even lead to... (see #3)

3. Have a lock on your bedroom door and don't forget why it's there. Sex is too easily neglected. The "make the time" mantra is useful here too.

4. Accept the reality that relationships take work. You can say you appreciate each other, but it doesn't mean much without proof. I know, for example, Bryan appreciates all that goes into my weekly preparations for our Friday night (Jewish Sabbath) meals because he does a good chunk of the cleaning after the company leaves, even though it's the last thing he wants to do. That clean kitchen means more than the most eloquent "thank you" or praise for the food. And he knows I appreciate him because I make those feasts consistently, even when I'm not in the mood to cook.

5. Make couple friends. Remember that funny, suave guy who swept you off your feet way back when? Remember how clever and delightful you were before getting the kids to eat something other than pancakes was your preferred topic of conversation? When you go out with other couples, you get to see your spouse's best face, and he gets to see yours.

6. Give (young) kids a bedtime, preferably an early one. Kids are rested. Mom and Dad have time alone. Everyone wins.

7. Use reason and sanity when signing the kids up for extra-curricular activities. Having the kids signed up for activities several evenings during the week and every weekend divides and conquers families and makes all the kids' non-school hours rushed and frenzied. I'm not saying no activities; I'm saying limit the activities.

8. Take advantage of every opportunity to celebrate. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day--any reason you can find. In my mind "celebrate" doesn't have to mean lavish gifts or any gifts. I can't remember the last time Bryan and I exchanged gifts. At this point in our lives with four small kids and many expenses, we'd rather spend extra money on babysitters and dinners out than presents. This goes back to #1 and #5. We're investing in our marriage!

Kids benefit when the marriage is a happy and healthy one, but a marriage like that takes a tremendous amount of maintenance. Like every flight attendant will tell you: put on your oxygen mask before putting one on your child.

Do you agree or disagree that the marriage should come first?