Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
– Lao Tzu
Based on conversations I’ve had with lots of parents like us, as well as my own experience, here are our Top 10 Tips for building a resilient and satisfying partnership.
- Keep Talking
Discuss Concerns – Keep each other up to speed on issues and concerns related to your child. Whether you’re considering a certain therapy, or how to handle a situation, it helps to be on the same page.
Take Timeouts – Respect your partner’s opinions, even if you don’t share them. Try to listen – really listen – and if you disagree strongly, consider taking a “time out” from the discussion. Instead of banging heads, give each other a chance to think, and then come together to try again.
Bridge the Gap – If one person assumes the role of primary caregiver, there’s a risk that parent can begin to feel unsupported, while the other parent can feel left in the dark. Sharing your thoughts will help you stay connected and remind you that you’re not alone.
Be Nice! – When you’re frustrated and anxious, it can be tempting to criticize or blame your partner. Be conscious of choosing your words kindly. Acknowledging the positives can help soften what might otherwise sound critical.
Nice: “Honey I appreciate how hard you were working on that business trip, but I need a chance to give you the download on what’s been happening around here.”
Not so Nice: “You have no #*@*# idea what’s going on around here!”?
- Respect Each Other’s Coping Styles
Give Space – Even if you can’t relate to your partner’s approach, try to respect each other’s coping styles. One mom I know goes outside and pulls weeds in the backyard whenever she’s upset. Her husband watches programs about cars on the Velocity Network. Over time, they’ve learned to give each other space to process things in their own way.
Consider Grief – Not only do we cope with stress differently, but we may also be at different stages of the grieving process. For example, if one parent is in denial while the other is busy seeking solutions, it’s not likely that either person’s suggestions will make sense to the other. It’s challenging when we disagree about what to do for our kids. But we can’t force each other to get to the same place, we can only appreciate each other’s differences and try to bridge the gap gently.
- Be a Team
Present a United Front – You may not be able to attend every appointment or school meeting together, but keeping each other in the loop on developments, cc’ing each other on important emails, and presenting yourselves as a united front will give you more strength as advocates.
Trade Off – Parenting duos can provide each other relief. As this mom said: “When I’m at my wit’s end, I just tell my husband ‘I can’t do this right now, can you please?’ and he has learned to do the same.”
Share the Load – If one of you is efficient with paperwork and the other likes tidying up the house, or one of you is a great bedtime storyteller and the other doesn’t mind doing dishes, you’re all set. Let your partner help, even if your approach would be different. Who really cares if the dishwasher is loaded “wrong” or the story went too late?
- Highlight Your Child’s Strengths
When you’re worried about your child’s challenges, it’s easy to get consumed by the gloom. Take time to remind each other of your child’s strengths, point out the positives, and celebrate small victories. Amplifying the positive can help change your whole outlook.
- Make Time for Your Relationship
Managing the day-to-day grind can be so demanding that our relationships often get put on the back burner. The problem is that relationships need attention. Even if it feels near impossible, schedule some together time every week. Can the grandparents help out? Is there a friend or sitter who could be trusted or trained to cover for you? The plan doesn’t have to be fancy. My grandmother used the term “gumdrops” to refer to happy future plans. Whether it’s a 9:00 date to meet on the couch and watch TV together, a night out for dinner, or a weekend getaway, gumdrops give you a chance to reconnect and remember why your whole family got started in the first place. You might even decide to talk about anything but the kids.
Remember to say thank you and show gratitude for each other. When much of your life is consumed by logistics, it’s easy to start to take each other for granted. One couple told me they make a conscious effort to perform random acts of kindness for each other – like making a drink, drawing the bath, or giving a compliment – and that care adds up. Another couple says they practice pointing out what each other does well. Honest appreciation goes a long way.
- Make Light
Maintaining a sense of humor makes everything easier. When her son has a particularly bad moment, one mother and her husband privately joke to each other “that one ought to go in the rehearsal dinner toast!” It’s kind of dark humor, because they don’t know if their son will ever get married, but making light of intense situations helps people cope (and in this case, it subtly cultivates optimism too).
Everyone makes mistakes, and usually we know when we blew it. Forgive your partner the way you’d hope to be forgiven. Grudges fester, and they’re not worth the pain.
- Sleep on It
One couple told me that sometimes when they realize their conversation isn’t going anywhere and they’re both exhausted, one of them puts the breaks on by saying “let’s sleep on it.” Just as time outs can be a helpful tool for working through disagreements, sleep is a powerful way to help you see things in a new light. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re more likely to be frazzled and have arguments. If sleep is an issue in your household, try taking turns so at least one parent is functioning on a full night’s rest.
- Let Others Lighten the Load
Accept and Request Help – Sometimes we feel too much pride to ask for or accept help, but there’s no prize for being the parent who does it all alone. Close family and friends often wonder how they can help. Why not request a small favor? Every little act of support – picking up your other kid at the bus, grabbing a dozen eggs at the grocery store – will give you a lift, and a chance to catch up with your partner.
Seek Support – Connecting with other families whose situation is similar to your own can be a lifeline. Consider joining a support group, online or in person, or think about finding a therapist who can help you work through the challenges and keep your relationship healthy.
Offer Respite – To avoid burning out, we also need to give each other an opportunity for respite. Notice when one parent is in need of refueling and offer to cover. As in: “Why don’t you go away for a few nights (fill in the blank: to visit your favorite aunt and catch up on sleep, to that funky yoga retreat, to celebrate your friend’s birthday, to learn how to play the ukulele) and I’ll manage the kids.”; or “Today, I’ll take (insert name of child who needs the most attention) to visit (some place outside the home) so you can (do whatever you like)!” Sometimes we need a real break.
Getting along with each other is the greatest gift you can give your children.
What have you found helps strengthen your relationship? Please share in Comments.