Regular communication about these topics could save your marriage and your family.
I’m reminded daily that most people are fairly naïve about all kinds of things when they start their married life together. Very few find life follows any kind of a simple plan (like living happily ever after) – especially when they have kids.
For example, a few months ago I received an anguished email from a man whose wife wanted a divorce because she felt manipulated into having their two children. What little he told me was heartbreaking as he spoke about how much he loved his wife and kids and how horrified he was by the prospect of divorce.
Last year I heard the story of a woman who filed for divorce. What pushed her over the edge was discovering that her husband had urinated all over their children’s bathroom – and by all over I mean the walls, floor, bathtub, sink – everywhere. He was making a statement about feeling ignored.
And then we’ve all heard stories of couples who stay together for the sake of the kids. Almost as soon as they drop their youngest off at university, they get divorced because they haven’t been happy together for years.
Children are a blessing and everybody struggles with raising them. The unfortunately thing is that way too many couples (like those in the stories above) wind up sacrificing their marriages for the sake of their children.
I don’t think it is an either-or situation. I believe you can raise great kids while having an amazing marriage.
Just how can you save your marriage from being destroyed by the stresses of parenthood?
Start off by doing these 5 things:
- Get clear about what dividing and conquering means to you. This is one of those things that’s easier to figure out before you have kids, but it’s still possible to bring clarity to your situation after you’ve been parents for a while.
The point of clearly spelling out who’s doing what when is that it sets expectations for both of you. Unmet expectations cause of tremendous stress and big arguments and deep-seated resentment and possibly the seeds of divorce.
So take the time to get all of the parenting expectations you each have out on the table. Figure out where you each need to compromise. But don’t carve these expectations in stone. You’ll want to revisit your agreements regularly because kids’ needs change as they get older (and as you have more of them).
- Set aside time each week to synch up schedules. Just managing your own schedule is tough, but when you have kids, schedules become incredibly more complicated. So complicated in fact that it’s easy to miss appointments if you don’t carefully synchronize who’s doing what when.
(Hopefully, this will be a time when you can talk about things that are upcoming beyond the current week so there are no surprises.)
- Find a way to resolve disagreements that fits with your parenting style. They’re going to happen and yet some parents don’t believe in having “discussions” in front of their children. If you’re not willing to have disagreements in front of your kids, when will you have them? Recognize that you will have disagreements and develop plans for dealing with them when they occur. If you don’t, you’ll either be ignoring things or letting them fester which will, without a doubt, undermine your marriage.
- Allow each parent to have alone time every week. Everybody needs time to recharge and nurture themselves. Find a way to let both of you have time to yourself to do what you want each week. By allowing you both to have alone time, you’ll each be better parents and spouses.
- Spend at least 20 minutes a day in conversation. You probably already spend at least 20 minutes every day talking about logistics for your kids and the household, but that’s not going to keep your marriage strong. In order to save your marriage from the stresses of parenting, you need to spend time connecting with each other – just like you did before you had kids.
Although these tips are great, they’re also pretty high-level because life with kids is much messier and dynamic than can ever be captured by any advice about how to juggle marriage and parenting.
However, they can serve as touch points you return to whenever things get out of balance. You can use them to help you find your way back to a new set of expectations you and your spouse can have of each other as you meet the demands of parenting.
And it’s by being willing to continually renegotiate and adjust in the context of working together as a team that will allow you to save your marriage and avoid the fate of the people who wind up divorcing because they weren’t able to raise their kids while keeping their marriage vibrant.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are struggling with their marriage. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you're ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.
Looking for more support and ideas for making your marriage better? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Unhappy Marriage.