Published in the PRG Fall issue 2019
By Meg Luce, LMFT
What is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children? Hint: it’s not Disneyland. Once you make a family, how you relate with your spouse or partner will not only affect you as a couple, but also your little creations. Scary, huh? Strong and happy adult relationships are a precious gift for your children. You may be more motivated than ever to take a look at how you interact in your relationship when you remember what a big impact it has on your children.
Even if you are a single parent, your children are watching you interact in other important adult relationships: your mom, your friends, or your child’s other parent, for instance. Take a minute to self-assess. Do you raise your voice or use “the silent treatment” to communicate? Perhaps you employ a bit of passive-aggressive strategy to get your point across. Noticing how you show up in your adult relationships and committing to positive communication will help you model the behavior you want your children to see. Better yet, you will become the partner and parent you want to be. What better way to give your children a good start in life than to create a secure and loving home?
You will find help to bolster your efforts to create strong relationships by reading And Baby Makes Three, by renowned couples researchers and psychologists, Drs. John and Julie Gottman. The book applies decades of research about what it takes to stay happily married and helps parents apply this information while negotiating the challenges of life with small children. Less couple-time, more chores and responsibilities, and lack of sleep (ugh!) all takes a toll on the couple. Both parents may be working harder than ever and yet feeling less appreciated. Sometimes couples turn against each other when the going gets tough and then begin growing apart.
Do not despair—there is so much a couple can do to stay strong and preserve their connection! The Gottman’s nifty little book is packed with good ideas and exercises to guide the way. Here are some of their suggestions to get you started:
• Bring up issues that bother you using “soft start-up,”meaning use a respectful style, rather than going on the attack.
• Cool down conflicts by listening to your partner’s point of view.
• Avoid “The Four Horsemen”- criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling – like the plague! Gottman’s longitudinal research reveals these four as relationship destroyers.
Create couple-time and nurture the bond between you and your sweetheart.
Is the above hard to do? Yes and absolutely worthwhile. Taking care of your relationship IS taking care of your children and is a precious gift.
Meg Luce is a Marriage & Family Therapist with a private practice specializing in helping couples. You can reach her through her website at NevadaCountyTherapist.com.