I have heard some very well-intentioned parents say that they want their primary focus to be on their children for the 18-ish years that their children will live in their home. Though I can identify with parents wanting to do their absolute best to love their children well, I disagree with this strategy. Instead, I believe that a primary focus on creating a healthy marriage is the cornerstone to helping our kids feel as happy and loved as possible.
When children grow up in a home with adults who model a healthy relationship based on love and respect, the children learn that there is safety and security within their family. The safety and security comes from knowing that their home base is built on a solid foundation. When Mom and Dad truly enjoy seeing one another and have frequent positive interactions, the children feel the love in the relationship. When children experience this love, commitment, companionship, and mutuality between their primary care-givers, it frees them from worry and allows them to concentrate on being children; playing, running, laughing, and learning.
It is important to keep in mind that a healthy marriage will include arguments and disagreements. Unless one marries their clone, marriages are made up of two very different people. Therefore, part of navigating a marriage includes being able to communicate about and resolve differences. In a healthy marriage these arguments are maneuvered in a way that honors each person involved. There is not always a “winner” or a “loser” in the disagreement. Sometimes a healthy couple can resolve a disagreement by agreeing to disagree, rather than finding a compromise or acquiescing. No matter what the resolution, the most important aspect is that each person feels heard, respected, and validated so that the fight doesn’t lead to injury or resentment within the couple. When your children witness a positive resolution to an argument, they are learning conflict resolution skills that will last a lifetime.
Tips for resolving marital conflict:
- Learn to register specific complaints and requests (when X happened, I felt Y, I would prefer Z).
- Conscious communication – Speaking the unarguable truth & listening generously.
- Claim responsibility – “What can I learn from this?” and “What can I do about it?”
- Validate your partner – Let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, do your best to see through their eyes.
- Re-write your inner script – Replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimization with thoughts of appreciation and responsibility that are soothing and validating.
- Shift to appreciation – Strive for 5 times as much positive feeling and interaction as negative.
- Practice getting undefended – Allow your partner’s utterances to be what they really are (just thoughts and puffs of air) and let go of the stories that you are making up.
- Focus on your marital friendship.
- Continue to work on your relationship, ALWAYS!
(Information based on Gottman, John, 1999 The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work)
The best way to focus on expanding your children’s sense of safety and security is through focusing on the health of your marriage. Remember, we learn best though modeling; so do your best to be a healthy role model to your children. Cultivating a healthy marriage is a gift to our children that lasts significantly longer than the 18-ish years that they live in our homes!