The Healthy Family Connections Podcast
Episode 157 · Duration: 00:15:03
Am I Too Controlling?
How do you get your husband to stop parenting with anger when your therapist and your husband have convinced you that you’re too critical?
Today we’re hearing from Peggy of Toronto, ON Canada. Peggy writes:
My 11 yr old son is sensitive and strong-willed and pushes back against boundaries. We had a lot of behavioral problems with him in the past which we resolved and things are much better. In the past, my husband and I were polarized (I was softer/he was firmer) he gets angry easily and that causes me anxiety. After couple’s counseling, I became firmer but still kind and work on ways to gain my son's cooperation. It became evident in counseling that I was critical of him and his parenting style (by lecturing him in a schoolmarmish way) causing him to feel unsupported/undermined. I stopped being critical and tried just modeling parenting and communication skills with my son which did have an impact and he adopted some of those approaches. Recently, however, I found myself falling into criticism again as I get frustrated when I see the two of them in a negative dynamic (kid on electronics dad comes in room annoyed/angry, and demands he gets off - son resists - power struggle ensues and tension rises with little resolve.) My husband does make a point of connecting and really is present for our boys and myself. It's the quick to anger and his tendency to escalate situations that I worry about and of course, he is hypersensitive to me saying anything about it, as this has been an ongoing issue since my son was a toddler. My question is: other than modeling and having my husband's back when my son is difficult. How can I support or encourage a change? Am I too controlling?
Thanks for your questions, Peggy. And I’ll answer them this way: No, you’re not too controlling, and yes, there is more you can do to support and encourage change and health in your family without being critical.
Here’s what I hear you saying: that you, your husband and your son are in a very common Control Battle together, a classic triangle. Counseling helped a great deal, but it didn’t completely change the pattern, and now you’re creeping back into it and want to head it off before it’s too late.
I’m thrilled you’ve asked your question and I’m happy to lend a hand. It does seem you got a lot out of counseling; how to set firmer limits with your son and how not to be critical or talk down to your husband. I’m less clear about what your husband got out of it. Somehow your husband missed that his use of anger to communicate displeasure with his son is unhealthy. He still needs to own it as a problem and address it.
Now, how can you do that without being critical or talking down to him? How can you do it without turning this into round 10 in a 15 round heavyweight relationship fight? Great question Peggy!!
Parenting Changes As Your Children Grow
First of all, it’s likely that you guys are sliding back because your son is getting older and in the next few years, as he enters his adolescence, you definitely do not want to be in this unhealthy triangle.
So here’s my strategy for talking with your husband that isn’t criticizing him. Start the conversation focusing on your son’s behavior. Focus on the fact that your son is putting the burden on the two of you as parents to manage his behavior, rather than him managing it on his own. Of course, this is quite common in 11-year-olds, particularly when it comes to video game self-regulation. You might emphasize that as your son enters his preteen years and then his teen years, it’s going to be important for him to learn self-management skills. If he doesn’t learn them, the fights at home could get pretty bad.
Then you could suggest that rather than you two having to get upset with him for gaming when he’s not supposed to be, that you make it clear to him that in order to have gaming privileges at all, he needs to be able to get himself off of them and keep himself off of them when he doesn’t have permission. Pretty cool, right? Now you are aligned with your husband and have reframed the problem as your son not having learned self-management skills and you’ve begun to establish a strategy to help him learn them.
Next, suggest that you want to have a talk with your son together and let him know that you see him growing up and wanting more privileges, and gaming on the computer is indeed a privilege and having that privilege and other ones, depend on his being able to follow the rules of the privilege, in this case of when he can use the computer for gaming and when he can’t. Help him know that you see him as a great kid and he’s now entering a stage of life where he needs to self-manage his behavior; manage more independently, more responsibly. He also needs to understand that when, for whatever reason, his parents tell him he needs to get off, that he can cooperate with that. Of course, he can ask if he can complete a game or have 5 or 10 minutes, but then if it’s granted, he needs to honor that without making it a parent problem to get him unglued from the game.Help your teen know that you see them as a great kid who is now entering a stage of life where they need to self-manage behavior and manage more independently and more responsibly.Click To Tweet
This is step one, where you invite your husband to join you in helping your son grow up.
Becoming A Stronger Parenting Team
Now I want to focus on the third rail of your relationship, your husband’s quick to anger issue. You should, in fact, be able to tell your husband your feelings without him hearing your feelings as criticism or you being controlling, or you trying to “change his behavior”. Your feelings are about you and since he loves you, which you say he does, you should be able to talk more openly and be vulnerable with him.You should be able to tell your spouse your feelings without them hearing your feelings as criticism or you being controlling. Your feelings are about you and you should be able to talk openly and be vulnerable.Click To Tweet
Here is what you might say to him:
I don’t want to criticize you. I know you’re there for me and for the kids and Lord knows I’ve got issues that get to you and the kids as well. So please try to hear my feelings about anger, without hearing it as me trying to control you or criticize you. I’ve tried to just accept your quick to anger behavior as something I need to accept as the way you are and get over it. And while I have accepted it, I haven’t gotten over it. When you go off, I feel it in my nervous system. It’s like a gun just went off and I freeze. My whole body fills up with adrenalin and cortisol, the stress hormones. My heart beats faster, and my blood pressure goes up, I can feel it.
Sometimes when a situation is brewing where I anticipate a flair up, whether anything happens or not, I go into this kind of stress reaction. I know you love me and this isn’t what you want to happen, but it’s simply the way I’m built and I need you to know that. I’m completely confident that we can get cooperation from our boys without blowups.
I’m really concerned that as the boys enter adolescence, that communicating disapproval to them with anger is going to backfire. You’ve put a lot of work into your relationship with them and they love you and need you. Let’s take this next step together and teach our boys to learn personal responsibility and be patient while they learn it.
How does that sound to you Peggy? If you try to share this with your husband, and he becomes defensive and his quick to anger issue comes out at you before you can share your thoughts, write your thoughts down and give them to him. If he holds on to his right to parent his own way, which includes being quick to anger, then it’s time to get back into couples therapy. The issue needs to be addressed for the health and growth of your family.
Two Kinds Of Relationships
So, listener, I have a question for you, what are you going to take away from Peggy’s situation? Here is something you might consider.
There are two kinds of relationships: growing relationships and fixed relationships. In growing relationships, members challenge each other to grow. As a result, they grow as individuals, and as a couple. At some point, there’s no issue that they can’t handle together. To accomplish that, a couple needs to be able to be vulnerable with each other. They need to be able to listen and hear each other without taking what their partner says personally and becoming defensive.
In fixed relationships, there are issues that can’t be touched and often, couples in these relationships need to get their emotional needs met from friends and family outside of the relationship. The relationship doesn’t feel safe to be vulnerable in. In fixed relationships, either the members are both fairly rigid and protective of their egos, or if they have the desire to grow, neither has the skill set to be an emotional leader; to be vulnerable and open up difficult discussions. If one person continues to grow, and the other won’t join them, at some point the growing member might want out.
Thanks for tuning in today, I really enjoyed talking with you and special thanks to you Peggy, for your inspiring question.
During this time of profound disruption, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Your local mental health resources are very much there, mostly using video platforms, and that works just fine, phones work too, and sometimes you can be seen in person as well.
If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.
If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website neildbrown.com and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.
Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.
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