Strengthening Your Parenting Partnership
Facing Challenges Together
Raising a child who struggles impacts a marriage / partnership in many ways, often forcing couples to discover new means of coping and communicating. Here are some insights on how to adapt and grow together.
1. Keep Talking
Discuss issues, concerns and decisions 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.
Stay Connected • 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 bridge the gap.
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. Give each other a chance to think, and then come together to try again.
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!”?
2. 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 goes outside and pulls weeds in the backyard whenever she’s upset. Her partner watches programs about cars on the Velocity Network. Over time, they’ve learned to let each other process in their own way.
Consider Grief • Not only do we cope with stress differently, but we may also be at different stages of acceptance. 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 only try to appreciate each other’s differences and seek middle ground.
3 . 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.
4 . Highlight Your Child’s Strengths
Take time to remind each other of your child’s strengths, point out the positives, and celebrate small victories. Amplifying the positive can improve everyone’s outlook.
5 . Make Time for Your Relationship
Managing the day-to-day challenges can mean relationships get put on the back burner. Even if it seems 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 or a night out for dinner, 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 honest appreciation for each other. 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.
7. 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.
9. 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.” 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.
10. 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. Sometimes we need a real break.
Guides are for general information only. They are not intended to be and should not be relied on as a substitute for specific medical or health advice. While every effort is taken to ensure the information is accurate, Wild Peace makes no representations and gives no warranties that this information is correct, current, complete, reliable or suitable for any purpose. We disclaim all responsibility and liability for any direct or indirect loss, damage, cost or expense whatsoever in the use of or reliance upon this information. Consult a medical professional with any questions.