John and I have been together for almost 15 years, married for over 10 of them. In that time we’ve navigated…
- 1 1/2 years living 1,200 miles apart
- 5 moves; 3 apartments, 2 houses in 3 different states
- 11 employer changes
- Financial ups, financial downs
- 1 dog, 2 guinea pigs, 2 rats, a hamster, and a multitude of fish
- Travel. Warm places, cold places, solitary cabins, and busy beach towns. Business trips, conferences, solo getaways. Guys’ fishing trips, girls’ weekends. Traveling separately, visiting in-laws, joint family vacations. Without kids. With kids.
- 12 vehicles
- 2 positive pregnancy tests, 18 months of anticipation
- 1 transition to parenthood which included hours upon hours upon hours of a crying baby.
- 1 transition into familyhood as we balanced the needs of two children 18 months apart.
Life’s challenges vary, but every marriage has them. They are all potential sources of stress. Bickering disagreements, all-out arguments, misunderstandings, miscommunications, financial stress, physical distance, emotional distance…strife. How do we weather life’s ups and downs with our spouse?
Pretty similarly to how we navigate challenges with our kids. The same tools John and I use in our non-punitive parenting endeavors also apply to our marriage. Why? They’re about preserving and strengthening the relationship.
Here are 5 of the best parenting tools to use with your spouse:
1. Nonviolent Communication. This is about focusing on each other’s feelings and needs. Basic needs and the feelings we have about them (based on whether or not those needs are met) are what drive human behavior. If spouses can look past each other’s irritating behavior and aim to understand the unmet need behind it, we can move into a closer, more connected relationship. Similarly, we can aim to communicate our own feelings and needs in a non-critical, non-judgmental way.
“I hear your suggestions for where to park; I know you enjoy getting the closest spot. Though, when you instruct me how to drive, I feel tense and insecure. I need freedom and trust to make this decision.”
2. Show faith. We trust our kids’ development, trust their ability to get up when they fall, trust that they’ll be able to solve their own problems and learn to ride a bike when they’re ready. Have faith in your spouse, too. It’s not about simply saying the words, “I trust you,” it’s about feeling the trust, actually having the faith, believing in your spouse. Without criticism. Just as we encourage our children, our spouses also need to hear, “I have faith in you to handle this.”
3. Cooperation. Adopt a working with approach to solving problems, rather than a doing to mentality: “He did X to me, so I’m going to do Y to him.” Work with your spouse’s personality and temperament to understand and respect his point of view. Instead of punishing each other for your mistakes, work together to solve problems and improve communication. Rather than dwell on mistakes, focus on solutions.
4. Special time. Schedule uninterrupted time together regularly. Depending on your routines, this might be going out for a bike ride once a week, or it may be catching up on DVRd shows every night after kids are asleep. Special time together allows you to connect and recharge after hours, days, or weeks of being primarily providers and parents. Remember why you’re a couple and re-get-to-know each other as you simultaneously grow through parenthood.
5. Attachment. You can–and should–be attached to your spouse! Attachment is about emotional connection: being with, being close, being on the same side, being significant, being loved, and being known. Just as we parent for secure, attached relationships with our infants and children, we can do the same with our spouses. Except in our adult relationships it’s not about discipline, but simply interacting together and relating as closely as possible.
And isn’t that the essence of
positive parenting marriage? It’s all about the relationship.