How To Raise A Good Future Partner

The greatest influence you will have on your child's future relationships begins with how you talk and listen to them now.

a mom and child looking at the sunset alongside a young couple looking at the sunset  sparklestroke via Canva, StockPlanets from Getty Images Signature, clumpner from Getty Images Signature

“The way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice.” 

I saw this quote a few years ago on a serene square background as I scrolled Instagram, and immediately felt a pang of guilt and shame. I think every parent who reads this sentiment would likely say, “Ouch. Yes. Ugh.” Or something along those lines.

It can feel a little hopeless, and like a really high standard that we’re bound to fail, but we know it’s true.


Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LeKelly Hunt Ph.D. were on the YourTango 'Open Relationships' podcast recently, and what they said about how we talk to each other and how we listen to each other made me remember when I felt called out by that quote, and it gave me some hope.

Let me give you some backstory.


I’m a mom of 4, and –  as if simply having 4 kids isn’t enough – I’m also going through a divorce, and living with ADHD, anxiety, and OCD. Life is chaos even on the best days, and I’m no Mary Poppins. 

In the heat of the moment, when I’m pushed to the max and I’ve run out of tools to manage a stressful situation, I’ve certainly said things to my children that I would never want them to repeat to themselves. I think, if we’re really honest, nearly all parents have been there. 

I left my marriage 3 years ago for more than one reason, but one of the biggest was I recognized I was not showing up as the mother my kids needed and deserved, and I couldn’t see how I could become that mother in the environment I was in. Could I undo what I’d set into motion? Could I rewrite my relationship with my kids? I had to try, and I have, with all I have in me.

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I’ve worked incredibly hard on myself these last few years, and something magical is happening.

The way I talk with my children now, the way I listen to – and validate them, and the repairs I'm consciously making when I do mess up are reshaping our relationships, and molding how they show up in other relationships right before my eyes.

When Harville said “Talking is the most dangerous thing people do… and listening is the most infrequent thing people do,” that got my attention.

It made me proud of how I am intentionally trying to listen more and talk (or at least lecture) less with my children, especially when big emotions are involved. 


It’s a hard shift to make. It requires sitting with discomfort and not immediately trying to fix something. What your child needs more than a parent to save them from everything, and to tell them what they should do or who they shouldn’t be friends with, is a parent who can listen without judgment and without a need to rush through their emotions in pursuit of everyone feeling “happy” as soon as possible.

Anytime we can model this kind of listening for our kids, we are giving them the gift of a life skill that so few people have mastered. The same can be said for being more intentional about how we talk with them and others, especially when we disagree.

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Teaching our kids to always strive to be the “best” may get them into college or on a sports team, but Helen says it could be detrimental to their relationships.


“Being the best isn’t bad, but it shouldn’t be the only value system. Because being the best, it’s like, if I have a thought, then it’s the best thought, right? Because I’m usually the best.

No one is taught… how to (communicate in) relationships (before) they have a crisis in their marriage and they need to see their therapist.

We think Safe Conversations (Harville and Helen’s structured process of talking and listening designed to create safe relationships) exists now for kids, for high school students to learn. And when they learn it, they have a healthier brain and they feel better.” 

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When I think about all the reasons my marriage fell apart, I often wonder how much of that was bound to happen because we didn’t know how to really listen to, talk with, and healthily disagree with each other.

And when I think of my children and my hopes for their futures, I ache for them to learn — so much sooner than I did – these critical skills that will impact the outcomes of every relationship they have. 


There is hope in knowing our kids don’t have to live with a permanently terrible inner voice because of something we’ve said to them in the past, that repair is possible.

There is hope in knowing that doing the hard work now of listening without judgment, and modeling how to talk about things we don’t agree on, is going to pay off not only in how they talk to themselves but also in how they talk AND listen to the people who will matter the most to them someday.

It could be the best gift you give your future son-in-law or daughter-in-law isn’t something you’ll buy off their wedding registry, but the intentional ways you talk and listen to your child now that will make them a great partner someday.


Author's Note: We are incredibly fortunate at YourTango to have real friendships with Harville & Helen, and, even though I’m new here, I know we’re all on a first-name basis. So please forgive me, former journalism school professors, for not referring to them by their last names in this piece. It just feels too formal for people we would call family here.

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Jill Krause is a writer and content creator with a focus on maternal mental health and midlife reinvention. She’s a published author and has been recognized for her work by Time, Vogue, Washington Post, Us Weekly, Today, and more.