My husband and I are pretty darn compatible. In fact, while participating in pre-marital counseling sessions years ago, we completed a quiz to check our compatibility and discuss any differences we had. After handing in our quizzes, the pastor giggled and asked if we cheated. He saw us sitting on opposite sides of the room while taking the quiz, so he knew we hadn't. Out of 100 questions, we answered only one differently... "Whose responsibility is it to do the yard work?" I answered, "both of us"... my husband answered, "my wife's." We now hire someone to do our yard work... a winning compromise.
In addition to the many things that couples must either agree or compromise on to sustain a healthy relationship, my husband and I agree on how we want to parent our children. Why is it then, that at times, we both find ourselves frustrated with how the other is parenting? I think about this a lot. I hate being frustrated at one of my most favorite people in the entire world (my husband) about one of the things I am most proud of us doing together (being parents!).
"I hate being frustrated at one of my most favorite people in the entire world (my husband) about one of the things I am most proud of us doing together (being parents)."
These feelings of frustration always seem to occur during stressful situations. Toddler tantrums. We are late. It has been a long day. Or more likely... toddler tantrums + we are late + it has been a long day. We have both agreed ahead of time on which strategies we should use in these scenarios. Why then, in the heat of the moment, do we both react so differently? And then get frustrated about how the other is parenting? And right in front of the kids. It often spirals, leading to no good resolution.
"In these scenarios, we often become agitated that our partner’s words or actions are not coinciding with our expectations..."
Each and every day we must control our emotions and tailor our actions and reactions to ones that are socially appropriate to the setting we are in. During stressful situations, however, we sometimes lose our cool and behave in ways that we did not intend. This seems to happen more at home, when we are around the ones we love, who we trust enough to love us back even when we lose control of our emotions. The way we act during these times is influenced by our many life experiences.
What, then, does it take to overcome these learned reactions and, instead, stick with the reactions we wish to use and teach our children? How can we be better at controlling our actions and reactions at home? How can we work together with our spouse to be the best parent and partner we can be?
To answer these questions, I have interviewed mother and counselor, Colleen Sanders.
"Regardless of how compatible a couple is, differences exist. In fact, your partner’s unique qualities are often even attractive to you. During a stressful situation, however, which children can create at the drop of a hat, these differences can quickly change from endearing to infuriating. In these scenarios, we often become agitated that our partner’s words or actions are not coinciding with our expectations, or feel as though we are not being heard. It is important, although difficult, to remember you share a common goal and work to communicate effectively with your partner."
How do we overcome learned behaviors and instead stick to the reactions we wish to use and teach our children?
Identify the behaviors within yourself that you want to change. It is easy to name things we want
to change in others, but much more difficult to determine ways to improve ourselves. Take time
for quiet introspection to determine things you want to change in yourself. You will be more
likely to successfully make a long term change if you see the need instead of changing because
someone tells you to.
Start a conversation with your partner about behaviors you would like to change and the
situations in which doing so will be most difficult. Your partner can support your efforts by
creating a signal (that does not annoy you) to serve as reminder when you revert back to old
Practice these behaviors on a daily basis which will make them part of your routine and easier to pull during stressful situations.
How can we be better at controlling our actions/reactions at home?
Pause and breath before responding. We are creatures of habit, so until you practice
enough to make your new desired behaviors habits, your gut reaction will likely be to act in the
manner you are trying to change. Stopping for a few seconds and taking a deep breath will
provide the opportunity to overcome your instinct and act appropriately.
Remember our children are watching. Our children watch and mimic our behaviors and we
can use that as motivation to behave the way we want them to act.
How can we work together to be the best parents and partners we can be?
Use your manners. The please and thank yous we are trying to ingrain in our kids are also
magic words during conversations with our partners. Using kind words will make your spouse feel respected and appreciated. Additionally, try to eliminate sarcastic or hostile tones and body language.
Be tactful in your approach. Instead of criticizing your partner’s mistakes point out the times
you noticed them actualizing their change and encourage them to continue.
Support and respect each other. Changing behaviors is difficult but having someone to
recognize and support your efforts can help you continue when it would be easy to give up.
"Remember you share a common goal..."
Colleen Sanders, MS, BS
Colleen has a Master's Degree in Counseling from Villanova University and a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from The University of Scranton. She has spent years working with children as a school guidance counselor. Colleen is also a full time mom of two sweet girls, Allie (age 3) and Caitlin (age 1).