"The moment he reaches home, he plays endlessly with doggie and completely ignores me. It drives me mad."

The secret to a lasting intimate relationship between husband and wife is the willingness to treat their spousal relationship as the first priority among all relationships, advises Father Henry Siew in this article, the first past of a series on spousal relationship.

THE FIRST PRIORITY is the ability to treat him and her as the number one in your life. If you do not cherish your couple relationship, there is no need for you to read on.

But if you truly wish to share a lifelong, fruitful and meaningful relationship with each other, then you have to make this priority your choice and your commitment.

When you yearn for your spouse to be the most important person in your life, and desire to make your marital love complete and perfect, you find your treasure. It is written in the Scriptures, "For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be too." (Matthew 6:21)

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A certain lady is very disappointed with her husband. She complains that her husband does not treat her as the most important person in his life. "He even pays more attention to his pet dog than me," she says. "The moment he reaches home, he plays endlessly with doggie and completely ignores me. It drives me mad."

Is it true that by playing with his dog after work, the husband has actually given his wife a cold shoulder? Not necessarily so. Perhaps he sees his wife busy in the kitchen and doesn't want to bother her, so he turns his attention to the dog instead.

The problem, of course, is one of perception which leads to the feeling of neglect. Is the husband unaware of his wife's feelings? What should be done? Should the wife be more direct in expressing her needs and feelings to him? Does she want her husband to take the initiative in expressing his care and affection for her?

If the husband should come into the kitchen offering help, would she accept gladly the "clumsy" helper? Or would she coax the husband out of the kitchen with the line, "You are really of not much help here"?

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Besides misunderstandings, sometimes husbands and wives fail to take note of each other's needs and feelings. The person who is too engrossed in business, events or children, often loses the passion and attention for the spouse. As a result, the matrimonial relationship is unwittingly compromised.

Such a person would usually work passionately, would strive to understand the needs of his or her colleagues, staff and clients and win their respect and approval. He or she might earn big bucks for the company and gain respect from co-workers, but, sadly, such a person often does not know how to use his passion to build a warmer and closer relationship with his spouse.

A person who does not give time to one's spouse is often regarded by the spouse as "treating others more importantly than me". Such a person uses his or her time and energy to help friends, and for church, club or other activities and ends up neglecting the spouse.

Sometimes this happens because the offending spouse had felt neglected in the first place and had turned to other people, to work, to games or to other activities to fill in the emotional void.

When a person feels that he or she is less important than the spouse's activities, friends and businesses, it is extremely hurtful and that can threaten the spousal relationship.

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Let's take a look at Charlie. One day while having dinner, he saw his wife standing quietly by the wash basin. When he spoke to her, she paid no notice. He recalled then that she had been cold towards him the last few days. Unable to pretend that he was unconcerned any longer, he asked directly, "What is the matter with you?"

"Nothing," she replied. "I am not so blur. I know there is something wrong. Why don't you speak up? What have I done wrong?" he pressed.

"Even if I tell you, you would not understand; and if you do, what good would it do? Forget it!" she retorted. But Charlie continued to insist that his wife tell him what was wrong.

So bit-by-bit, she told him everything that had contributed to their mutual distancing over the years of marriage. "You would rather work and meet up with friends, and give attention to anyone who comes to you for help, but you just wouldn't spend time with me," summed up her grievances.

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Why was she so upset? She explained, "Many times when we scheduled to spend time together, you would change our plans at the drop of a pin. As long as someone else called, or knocked at  our door, either for work or for friendship, you would go all out to meet their needs and forgot all about me."

"I thought you wouldn't mind, we see each other everyday anyway!" he exclaimed.

"Didn't you know I long to be alone with you? You did not seem to care," she responded.

After listening to her, Charlie realised how he had neglected and offended his wife in the past. He was so careless about his appointments with her that he indeed did not treat her as the most important person in his life.

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For other couples, it could be the wife who had neglected the husband. She showers all her love and spends all her energy on her children or parents. She would spend the whole day bathing, feeding, nursing and playing with the children when they were young, and worry about their studies, activities and friends when they were older. Or she would busy herself with her parents, running errands for them, buying groceries for them and ferrying them to the clinic. Or she could be busy with her career.

In short, such a wife serves so many people well but she has no time for her husband. In time to come, the husband would feel there is no place for him in his wife's heart, and become troubled and unhappy.

If a person should get interrupted by a phone call when he or she wants to spend time with the spouse, he or she should not hesitate to tell the caller that he or she is unable to attend to the call presently. Everyone has the right to declare "Do not disturb". Most people are understanding and would not reject your request to attend to matters relating to your spouse.

No matter what, a married person must be convinced and be ready to manifest to his or her spouse that he or she is indeed the most important person in his or her life!

Father Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, is a trained professional social worker. He is the spiritual director to Mandarin Marriage Encounter Weekend, and to Morning Star Community Services.

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