The key to partnering and parenting well

If you’re raising your kids as part of a team, you might have worked out by now that your ‘special someone’ is just a little bit short of perfect. (I know, right). It turns out that in the harsh light of life and amidst the full noise of parenting, your special someone might not be exactly on your page.

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If you’re rolling around in matrimonial/relational bliss, you might want to scroll on by here. But if you, like many of us, have started a family with your most awesome and opposite other then you just might be up against some pretty challenging relational dynamics right now. Like how to share the household chores, manage the money, discipline the kids and earn enough money between you to pay for life. Parenting plus partnering can be pretty full on when life hits full swing.

Ironically we’re drawn into relationship with someone who is completely different and opposite from ourselves, only to become oh-so-frustrated that they can’t just, well, be more like us. When the full throttle of day to day pressure is on, it’s easy to resort to niggling and nagging with our beloved about the everyday menial things.

The four things couples fight about

According to relationship guru Dr John Gottman, there are four things that couples regularly bicker about –

  1. Money
  2. Sex
  3. In-laws
  4. Household chores

But here’s the kicker – about 70 percent of what couples actually fight about never actually gets resolved. True story [1]. So all that bickering and bargaining is mostly a big fat waste of time and energy.

So when the tide goes out on the goodwill in the relationship and we find ourselves in gridlock again with our partner, one option is to find a new one. Another is to reach for some new tools to take care of the relationship. Here are a couple of tools to mull over – though you might not want to try them all at once.

“What’s your problem?”

Nobody responds well to blame or criticism. It’s a universal truth that when we are criticised we pretty much all shut down in one way or another. We either withdraw because ‘clearly we can never get anything right’ or we bite back with insults of our own to defend ourselves.

Either way, nobody wins when criticism is around. If you have criticism in your relationship, my suggestion is that you do your best to get rid of it. As quickly as possible. The best antidote for criticism is kindness.

Kindness makes the biggest difference to the quality of our relationships and it has to start somewhere and with someone. It can be tough to channel kindness but chances are it was there when you started out together, so it can be there again. So be patient with yourself as you cultivate it.

What does kindness actually look like in relationships?

1. Get the diary out

Kindness looks like blocking out some time in your diary and putting your partner’s name on it. Meet for lunch, walk along the beach, grab a movie, head to the mall – even if it’s just the time to sit on the couch with a cup of tea, it’s still time to take a break from squabbling or ignoring each other, and a chance to reconnect.

Time is love so when you send your partner an invitation to meet up, it sends them the message that they are still your favourite person and you’re still choosing to hang with them over every other thing that is demanding your attention.

2. Take the bins out

Nothing breeds resentment like feeling taken for granted – and the opposite of being taken for granted is being cared for. Being cared for is just hands down a more pleasant way to live. By accepting care, it doesn’t mean you are weak or needy – just that you are worthy of kindness and that feels good.

So whether it’s getting up to make a cup of tea before your special someone thinks of it, or offering to do some menial task around home, like taking the bins out, getting something out for dinner, offering to drop the kids to sport, something, anything – any small gesture will do here so use your imagination. Doing stuff that helps is a massive deposit in your special someone’s account.

3. Cheap and cheerful

I know what you’re thinking here, you would buy your special someone the world if you won the lottery, right? But don’t wait till then. In the absence of the big win, try a small and inexpensive gift and see where it takes you. Start with a few flowers from a nearby garden, some chocolate from the supermarket or some lunch delivered to work.

A gift, regardless of its financial value, is a symbol that your special someone is important to you and you are thinking of them. It really is the small little things that count here – like buying their favourite brand of biscuits or favourite magazine. Gifts needn’t be flashy or expensive. It really is the thought that counts, so it’s not hard to do but goes a long way to top up the special someone’s account.

4. Find your smiling eyes again

When we are bit miffed with our special someone, the first thing to fly out the door is our smile. Seriously if you try nothing else from this article, try this one. Instead of saving our smile for our friends and our kids, try pulling it out again and sharing it with your special someone.

Just a smile alone can change the chemistry in the air at home, lighten the atmosphere and massively close some distance. But don’t just smile with your mouth – that could give the wrong impression, try smiling with your whole face – especially your eyes. (Which is hard to explain here, but you know what I mean). You’re getting the pattern, I’m sure – smiling eyes also go a long way to top up the special someone’s account.

5. A stack of cards

With a house full of kids, our word count often goes in their direction and we end up subbing full sentences for simple syllables or instructions like, “Take the bins out,” or, “Get the bottle,” or, “You did what?!” Over time, we so easily fall into speaking to our special someone the way that we speak to ourselves in our own head – which is sometimes not that pleasant. Or we stop speaking to them at all. That’s not much fun.

If you struggle with words, you could try getting or making a stack of cards with some nice words in them so you can underline the words you like. Put them in the top drawer so that when the time is right, you can pull one out and add the finishing touches. Easy. Words go such a long way in topping up the special someone’s account.

You might have worked out that each of these ideas are tied to our love languages, which is a pretty helpful tool for relationships. You can learn more about your own and your special someone’s love language here.

[1] Gottman, J. M. (2009). What predicts divorce?: The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. New York: Psychology Press.

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About Author

Jo Batts

For Jo, relationships are at the heart of whānau. Jo is our Family, Relationships and Marriage coach at Parenting Place working with family, sibling and relational dynamics. She’s a counsellor, a strengths coach, a parent, a partner, and the leader of our relationships and marriage programme. Jo's down-to-earth approach helps people to develop the practical tools to build healthy relationships for everyday life.

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