On Thursday it is Valentine’s day. You may not celebrate the day. Even if you are in a relationship. Plenty of people think it is overly commercialised and an opportunity to extort money for cards, flowers, chocolates and dinners at prices vastly inflated compared to the rest of the year. You may feel you have no use for red, scratchy lace underwear or perfume that doesn’t suit.
Ok so I’m being cynical. Maybe you relish an opportunity to celebrate your love for your partner and having a day set aside for it may be a good way to remind you of it and rekindle the old flame.
When we go from being a couple to being a family many of us find there is no time to spend on our partners any more. Romance dies along with sleep and we find ourselves griping about the things the other forgets to do as the items on our own to-do list breed and multiply. A night out becomes prohibitively expensive when you add in babysitting and if you try to have a date night at home you may find yourself asleep on the sofa by 9pm. The things that we used to find endearing may now seem really irritating. The foot massage you used to give each other is replaced by the weekly nit check and daily search for matching socks.
Our children so often become our priority and our couple relationship can take second place. Between work and the kids it can be hard to find any time for ourselves or our couple relationships. This is a big mistake. The relationship you have with your partner is the foundation on which your family relies. It is the template on which your children will model their own future relationships and sets the tone for the sense of belonging in the family. Having someone else to tag team with in the parenting race also makes it much easier. When parents are united about values and discipline the children feel more secure and push against the boundaries less. Of course the adults may have some differences in their styles of parenting, but what’s important is that both mum and dad present fairly similar expectations and limits.
Here are some ways to develop a united front with your partner
- Schedule date nights where you don’t talk about the kids.
- Set aside (other) regular times to communicate with your partner –discuss what your values are and what you want to happen. Work out your differences in private so that you can be consistent in public.
- Where there is disagreement, compromise –consistency is more important than the actual rule
- Acknowledge each other’s strengths. (I recommend the practice of writing down one descriptive praise for each other each day in a little book.)
- Say positive things to/about your partner in front of the children. Speak to and about the other with respect. Your children will take their cue from you.
- Be affectionate with each other in front of the children. (Yes they’ll say yuck but it will make them feel secure!)
- Don’t criticise and try not to argue with your partner in front of the children. If you do disagree do so respectfully.
- Don’t play good cop/bad cop: Check in with other partner before promising something to the children and if your child comes to you when you suspect they’ve already asked their other parent, ask them “what did mummy/daddy say?” and go along with their decision
- Don’t compete to be the better parent. Remember that even when your partner is parenting differently from you s/he has the best interests of the children at heart.
- If you’re not together with the child’s other parent then communication may be difficult. Children can cope with different rules and approaches in different households but be sure you never denigrate the other parent.
Involving an absent or disinterested partner
- Consider why they’ve checked out. Are they working very long hours? Why? Is this a financial necessity? Do they feel more successful/ comfortable at work than at home?
- Ask for their support, opinions, input on family rules, outings, holidays etc without criticism. Be honest with yourself and question whether your style of involving your partner in the past has largely been to nag and criticise them.
- Ask for your partner’s involvement in small ways at first where they are likely to feel successful and enjoy the experience such as taking the kids to the park for a short outing. Build up to them taking a full share of the less pleasant aspects of parenting over time. Be appreciative even if you still think they should be doing more.
Healthy ways to deal with conflict:
- Acknowledge and reflect back your partner’s point of view to him/her, especially where this is different from yours
- Don’t criticise, but make requests and state your needs. eg I need more help around the house. Please can you take out the garbage each week.
- State how you feel using ‘I’ statements, not ‘you’ statements – “when you leave the kitchen in a mess I feel as if you expect me to clean it up and I feel taken for granted.” not “you always leave the kitchen untidy –you really take me for granted.”
- Confine yourself to the matter under discussion –don’t bring up history. Don’t use the words ‘always’ or ‘never’.
- Avoid defensiveness ie denying responsibility for a problem. eg Steve has a sharp intake of breath after Maggie just braked hard in the car. She says: there you go again being a back seat driver! Accept some personal responsibility for at least part of the problem. “Sorry! That was a bit abrupt.”
- Avoid stonewalling - where the listener withdraws from the interaction and doesn’t respond. It indicates an emotional withdrawal from the relationship. If you feel the need to withdraw ask for a break and agree upon a time to resume the conversation.
So take some time this week to focus on your other half and remember why you got together in the first place. Tell them what small things you appreciate about them.