They say that marriage gets more difficult once you have children. It can be tougher to find the time and energy for connection and romance. It can also be a challenge when you and your spouse have a disagreement and you don't make time to be alone and resolve it .
You might have uncomfortable or even traumatic memories of your own childhood listening to the adults in your house argue and fight. The yelling and anger may have sent you racing to your room where you hid underneath a blanket or turned up the volume on your stereo to drown out the raised voices.
The last thing that you want to do to your own children is to subject them to a similar experience.
Even if you didn't grow up around adults who argued and fought, you are probably mindful of the kind of conversations you and your partner have in front of your children.
It is kind and sensitive to want to shield your children, but this can become a method for avoiding conflict in your relationship.
“Not in front of the children,” unfortunately, can be a way that you and your partner sweep aside tension, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. The conflict is left to fester and grow until one or both of you can no longer pretend that it's not there.
This is when it's impossible to shield your children from conflict in your relationship-- this is also sometimes when marriages fall apart and end in divorce.
It's inevitable that, at one point or another, you and your partner will have to sort out and resolve a difficult issue. When that issue arises, don't try to minimize or avoid it because you're protecting your children from tension.
Instead, remember these communication guidelines...
Set aside regular time alone with your spouse.
Regardless of how many hours you and your partner work in a day and despite how busy your kids keep you, this HAS to happen. You and your spouse have got to set aside regular time where you can be alone and uninterrupted.
Even if it's a focused 5 or 10 minutes each day, this is a helpful start. Schedule it and get creative. Hire a babysitter for even 1 hour a week, trade child care with friends or family or put the kids to bed early one evening a week. Do whatever it takes to have a consistent chunk of time in which you and your partner can be alone with one another.
The time you spend with your spouse does not have to always be “serious” or involve hashing out disagreements. In fact, the more you can mix it up and include some fun, some romance and passion as well as some time for talking out tense topics, the better.
If you only have a short window of time and you are trying to discuss a difficult issue, you might agree to certain time intervals so that you each are ensured a chance to talk. Use a kitchen timer if you need to. If you're assured that you'll have your turn, you are more likely to focus in on what your partner is saying.
Learn how to calm down and stay calm.
Bring a sense of calm and clarity to your conversations with your partner. Especially if this is a disagreement, you're going to be able to see solutions and come to some kind of peace about the subject sooner if you can stay calm.
Remember to breathe and keep returning to what's most important to you. If it's helpful, write out what the “facts” are about this issue. Too often in the heated discussion, people get side-tracked by not only their assumptions about what the other person thinks, but also by a desire to be “right” or to “win.”
Both of these tendencies only intensify the hostility and make a resolution more impossible.
If you find that you are losing your cool, becoming defensive or you feel yourself shutting down, pause and breathe. Even though time alone with your partner is precious, be willing to take a short break from the conversation. Be sure to agree to a specific time when you two will revisit this conversation.
Don't lie to your children and don't put them in the middle.
We know, arguments rarely happen at convenient moments. In fact, it often seems like conflicts crop up at the most inopportune moments.
Depending on age, maturity level and the personality of the child, gauge what you will tell him or her. We do not, however, recommend that you lie. No matter how young or sensitive your child is, it's not beneficial to pretend that mommy and daddy are “just fine” when they really aren't.
Children are very perceptive. They can pick up on the tension or the dissonance in the air and if you insist that everything is “fine” when it's not, this can be more confusing and upsetting than if you are honest in a wise way.
Conflict is part of life. Chances are, your child has already encountered some form of disagreement with other children or with adults, so he or she knows this is part of life. Here is your chance to send the healthy message that when conflicts arise, you acknowledge them and deal with them.
At the same time, we absolutely do NOT recommend that you put your children in the middle of your argument with your spouse. This is unfair and unproductive. You and your partner need to be able to focus in on the disagreement and on really listening to one another (and to your own selves too).
Let your child know that he or she is loved and that you and your partner will work through whatever the disagreement is about.
If the issue directly involves the child, you could set up a later discussion that he or she is part of. First, find a way to connect in with your partner and come to some peace about the issue. Then, bring in the child and work together as a team to find the best solution.
Click here to receive Susie and Otto Collins' free mini-course: "10 Communication Secrets for Creating a Lifetime of Love."