Don’t Polarize, Synthesize: Tips For Communicating With Your Spouse

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 070 · Duration: 00:14:39

Don’t Polarize, Synthesize: Tips Communicating With Your Spouse

This week, we're answering a question from a dad who wants to have a better relationship with his two children.

Art writes:

Don’t Polarize, Synthesize Tips Communicating With Your Spouse PinterestMy wife asked me to listen to your podcasts because she thinks I need a better relationship with our 2 boys, 12 and 9. Your advice makes sense so I’m hoping you’ll have some for me. I think the problem is really more with my wife, although I’m sure I play a role. I work 40+ hours a week and commute an hour each way so I miss out on a lot of family time. My wife works too although she works close to home half time, so she has time with the kids. I need my own down time on the weekends, but want to do things with the kids too. When I try to get them to do something, go for a bike ride, kick a soccer ball around, I get whining and complaining, they’d rather be on their devices, read comic books, watch TV and when I get upset and put my foot down, I have unhappy kids and a critical wife. I think a big piece of the problem is my wife who isn’t strict enough with them, so when I get into the picture, they’re not used to accepting authority. Quite frankly, I’m concerned that if we make it through the child rearing years, my wife and I will be too unhappy with each other to stay together. Any suggestions?

Thanks for your question Art and I hear your concerns that you can’t get the boys to engage with you in a healthy way, your wife is not holding them to high enough standards, and to top it off, you’re concerned that the struggles are alienating you and your wife from each other.

A Control Battle Is Taking Place

You’ve heard me talk about control battles and it sounds like you have one with your wife and with your boys as well. Here is the narrative that I’m guessing supports the control battle with your wife.

In your mind:

  • She isn’t doing her job with the kids; I can’t come home and change everything that she’s been doing.
  • She’s setting me up and then blaming me.
  • She doesn’t appreciate that it’s my hard work and doing that ugly commute that supports everyone and I don’t get the respect and support I deserve.

In your wife’s mind:

  • Art doesn’t want to build a relationship with the kids or me. I’m the one who has to arrange everything for the kids and for us.
  • I feel like a single parent and he comes home and expects to be treated like a king. He’s a big shot at work and comes home and expects everyone to treat him like they do at work. We don’t want to be treated like his employees.

Art, as long as you and your wife have these negative narratives, or narratives like these going, it will support your control battle, which by the way, with couples I term, the negative cycle. I talk about it in a blog and a podcast called “The Hidden Relationship Killer.”

One element that keeps this destructive pattern going is burnout. Yes, both you and your wife are suffering from burnout and I know this because neither of you has enough emotional resources left over to be the bigger person for each other. Because you are both low on emotional resources, you’re not being an emotional resource to each other and because of that neither of you are getting the support, the empathy, the caring, the connection that you both want and need.

Parental burnout can occur when you are low on emotional resources. You aren't getting the support, the empathy, the caring, or the connection that you want and need.Click To Tweet

How To Make Changes In The Home

So Art, here is what you can do both with your wife and with your kids and then, since I know your wife listens to our podcast, I’ll offer her some words of encouragement too.

Art, first, let’s lose the negative narrative. You have a fabulous wife and you know it, so let’s assume you’re not getting what you need from her because she needs you and needs your support, so let’s give it to her. Same with the kids, they need their Dad and they need his leadership to get out of their ruts and have some Dad fun and make some Dad memories.

Start with a conversation with your wife. Talk about the challenges you’re having getting the kids moving and ask her for her ideas about how to set things up so that the kids know what’s coming and things they would enjoy doing. Now, you’ll be acknowledging her more intimate knowledge of the kids, their needs and interests and can benefit from that and also give recognition and appreciation to her for that.

Of course, you can add with her your ideas and preferences. I hope that you and your wife decide after your discussion, that you should have a talk with the kids in an evening prior to the weekend. During this discussion, you let them know that you miss them a lot during the week and the only time you can really enjoy them is on the weekend. So, you want to plan an outing together with them.

Give them some choices and see if they have other ideas. Sounds like one of the main things you want is to be active, be physical together, which is great so you and they can talk about what activities everyone would prefer. Your boys will have different interests and abilities so there will need to be some compromising and taking turns going on and you can help them make those adjustments as well.

Routine is a parents best friend, so if you have a standard time that you are going to be doing things, that works best . Of course, your kids will have weekend activities, soccer games, birthday parties etc. so there needs to be some flexibility here, but if we know there will be a Dad / kid outing most weekends, then you won’t face so much resistance.

Now I’ll talk to your wife, whose name I don’t know so wife, thanks for introducing me to your wonderful husband. I’m happy to have him join the family of Healthy Family Connections listeners.

I know you are struggling trying to get the support you need from your husband and the cooperation you need from your kids. Be cautious of the story you tell yourself about your husband Art, because once you write a negative story and believe in your story, it starts to come true. Your husband is a great guy who wants to be connected with his wife and kids and is struggling just like you are to make it happen. Often it’s hard to see that because you’re tired and struggling and need his support, and he’s tired and struggling and needs your support so everyone’s depleted, and to one degree or another on parental burnout.

Be cautious of the story you tell yourself about your husband or wife, because once you write a negative story and believe in your story, it starts to come true. Click To Tweet

Offer Art your insight into how best to connect and plan with the kids and let the kids know that they will be doing some planning with their father for weekend day outings and they should think about some activities they’d like to do with him.

Now ask yourself this question: Is Art right that maybe you aren’t asking enough of the kids? Are they in the habit of giving you flack when you prompt them to do a responsibility, are they managing their responsibilities in a way that’s appropriate for their age and personal potential, or have they been able to ware you down? Talk with Art about how you both can approach the kids and set the standards and expectations.

Let me talk to both of you now. Empathy with a life partner is an amazing thing. When we have appreciation for who our partner is and caring for how they feel, it feeds them just like charging up their battery and they are getting that charge for the one person they want it from the most. It makes them feel connected, close and supported. That invites them to be able to offer the same back to you.

Empathy with a life partner is an amazing thing. When we have appreciation for who our partner is and caring for how they feel, it feeds them just like charging up their battery.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in, listeners. And thank you to Art for his question, and for his wife for being an active podcast listener.

Do you have a parenting or relationship question you'd like me to answer on the podcast? Submit your question here. I'm sure many other listeners can benefit from the topic.

And please remember, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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  1. Thanks for your kind words and support Dr. Kelly. Very much appreciated and I hope that this is in fact helping many folks; that’s our mission. 🙂

  2. This is better advice than we got from 6 different therapists. I like the narrative guess, the emphasis on understanding and empathy as well as some concrete suggestions about how to structure things. I think millions of families could benefit from Neil’s podcasts and his straightforward advice. He’s making the planet a better place, one family (now many) at a time and there will be ripple effects on into the future.

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