Posted on January 26 2023
Written by Dr Annabelle Chow, Clinical Psychologist
Navigating a healthy relationship is one of life’s biggest challenges. Add a child or two into the mix, and you’ve got a lot on your plate!
With all the stresses life throws at you, the last thing you want is to be at your partner’s throat. It seems almost impossible to balance your household, job, and family. Then there are the biological changes; hormonal changes, physical and emotional recovery after childbirth, and along with that the changes to your sleep patterns having children causes. Not forgetting the emotionally draining, time-consuming, job of raising your children! All of this influences your thinking patterns and contributes to the way you interact in your relationships.
Establishing realistic boundaries and expectations with your partner can help carve a map in the journey that is your relationship.
Here are some tips to keep you from tearing your spouse’s head off!
It is not realistic to expect any relationship to be free of conflict. Parents have conflict with children, employees have conflicts with employers, and friends have conflict with one another.
Even happily married couples argue.
One famous study predicts the outcome of a conversation based on the first 3 minutes of a 15-minute interaction 96% of the time, and whether a couple will divorce within the first 5 minutes 91% of the time!
So if a conversation begins with criticism or contempt, it will end on a negative note.
Before we begin a conversation with our partner, pause, take a deep breath, and speak candidly without criticism, sarcasm, or contempt.
Be (and stay!) on the Same Page
Whether it be parenting duties, finances, chores, or even a choice of primary schools, it is important that you and your spouse discuss the expectations you have of one another to avoid unnecessary conflict.
Conflict is inevitable. But knowing what your partner expects and can bring to the table reduces misunderstandings and disappointment. If it seems like your partner is routinely disappointing you by failing to meet the expectations you have set for them, take a step back, and agree on simple expectations for one another. When clear and realistic expectations are routinely met by your partner, it will lead to a greater sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in the relationship. Both partners will naturally want to seek and fulfil higher expectations over time.
Remember to keep these expectations realistic and to allow for compassion instead of criticism the other partner if expectations are not met. We are only human.
Be Open and Willing to Accept each other's Influence
You are both parents and you are both your own individual persons. But it is important to remember you are a team, backing one another up!
Say it's your partner's turn to prepare dinner but they decide they’re too tired to do so after an unexpected day at work, perhaps offer to cook and suggest they clean after – you get the job done without having to incur additional resources or enter a disagreement.
Research has found that couples that are willing to be influenced by each other and who support each other result in successful marriages!
Communication is Key
Communicate openly, honestly, and constructively.
Being vague results in misinterpretation that inevitably leads to conflict. Express yourself and your emotions clearly to allow your partner to understand you and your decisions better.
For example, letting your partner know that you are overwhelmed and frustrated by a situation at work, and hence are finding it difficult to play with your child that evening, gives your spouse context. Clear communication allows you partner an opportunity to offer a reasonable solution. If they are not privy to the reasons behind your behaviour, they may not have the context to offer compassion.
Don't avoid discussing difficult topics or situations. It may be overwhelming and might evoke strong feelings, but having an open conversation will allow you and your partner to arrive at a satisfactory course of action.
Self-Care benefits Everyone
It’s difficult to look after others if you aren’t looking after yourself. Your mental well-being affects not only you, but the relationships you have with your spouse and children.
Take time to care for yourself. It is important that you and your spouse understand each other’s needs, from when you need their comfort, to when you need some alone time.
Carve out some dedicated time each week for “alone time”, where you are free to do whatever you want without having to worry about your partner or children. Take this time to do things that will please you, such as attending an exercise class or going out with friends. Or maybe you want to do nothing at all and relax with a book, soaking in a bubble bath with a glass of wine.
At the end of the day, you want to be the best version of yourself, not just for yourself but also for your spouse and children.
Messing up is inevitable, and is an indubitable part of life. How we navigate dealing with mistakes and moving forward play a huge part in maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner. While we may not be able to change our actions of the past, and the overwhelming feelings we associate with these events, we can decide how we respond.
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgiving entirely, or condoning their actions, but is a deliberate act to accept these circumstances instead of trying to change the past.
There is no doubt that forgiveness is challenging, especially when you’ve been hurt. Acknowledge how you feel, perhaps that you’re hurt and feel betrayed, and jointly figure out a direction to proceed that is most in-line with your values.
Accept Help from Others
Raising a child is a conquest of its own – doing so while maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner is its own Everest.
Accepting help from family and friends allow you to have time to yourself to recuperate and reset. It also allows for alone-time with your partner and to keep the excitement in your relationship alive.
You may feel guilty when asking for help, and that is perfectly normal. Asking others for help makes some of us feel incompetent or ashamed that we can’t do it all.
Normalise asking for help. You may find it easier to start small, perhaps by asking if your parents could help you with some groceries while you’re at home caring for your sick child. Or perhaps ask if they could watch your children for a moment while you take a shower. Perhaps you could offer a trade with other parent-friends; you offer to watch all the kids for an evening whilst the other couple has child-free time, and then rotate so you and your partner can have time to yourselves.
Whatever the situation is, remember to be on the same page. Be clear about the help you need, and discuss with your partner what the two of you feel comfortable on allowing others to do.
It could also be comforting to speak to your friends about your struggles. You may be surprised at how others also face similar issues, or how they might be willing to help.
Seek help and support from loved ones, and if need be, seeing a professional is always an option. A psychologist or family counsellor can mediate discussions addressing, accepting and resolving issues in your relationship, providing you with the tools to maintain your relationship with your partner.
Prioritise your relationship
Having children often shifts our attention from one another and onto the little humans we're now fully responsible for. Between children, work, and filial duties, there is little precious time left to focus on your relationship with your partner.
Dedicating time to maintaining and developing your relationship with your partner outside of the practical day-to-day conversations over child-rearing and household maintenance is essential to keeping the flame alive.
Whether it be intimate moments alone, or simply taking a walk together after dinner, these brief but intentional connections will allow you individual time to check-in with your partner away from your children.
Continuing to build a strong foundation and understanding of your partner helps when navigating future moments of tension.
How you interact with one another has an impact on your child. You are a team; all parties must actively endeavour to make the partnership strong and healthy. Remember what your intentions are with each action and each conversation, keeping in mind what you hope to achieve out of each interaction helps you focus on what benefits your relationship. Life will never be perfect, and getting on each other’s nerves is an inevitable part of any relationship, but handling moments of conflict healthily is the best way to ensure you won’t want to kill your spouse!
Credits: Pavel Danilyuk, William Fortunato, cottonbro studio, Vera Arsic,
Recommended Reads: 20 Simple Acts To Keep The Spark Alive In Your Relationship