An approach that I’ve tended to use a lot over the years with hubby (not that I always manage to do it well!) is to acknowledge that it seems like a really stressful situation for them both (hubby and DS/ DD). I aim to be level and kind and give some extra reasusre to DH knowing that he’s the one who’s likely to worry about me disapproving of his interactions. He and the kids basically know that I tend to sway more towards empathy for them in these situations. I often have to manage my judgments and centre myself to be able to stay open-hearted towards him. As much as I might like to thrash it all out there and then and come to a solution and resolution, those bigger conversations about the dynamics tend to work best at a calm connected time when the kids are otherwise engaged. I attempt to start with expressing empathy “that was really stressful wasn’t it when you and …. disagree”. Similar to the mediation steps I recommend in some of my articles on the peaceful parenting approach to kids conflicts, I will aim to reflect the difficulty that I see they are struggling with. I try to empathise and reassure DH of his good intentions “I know it’s so hard when you just get in the door and you’re already exhausted and I know it’s been a big week in work for you and …. ” that kind of thing.
If DH’s approach was not quite PP, he’ll know that I have thoughts and feelings about that. He also will know that I’m working hard to be diplomatic, and in doing so, I’m helping him shift from being defensive to instead being more honest and vulnerable about his feelings. For most people, parents and children alike, we can make our way towards truly wanting to resolve things when we feel cared for and heard. We have more empathy when we feel empathised with, we have more generosity of heart when some of our needs are met. Sometimes when I talk with my husband afterwards and help him see the situation from DD/ DS’s perspective, he’ll have the urge to go and say sorry but I’ll know that it’s going to come across as defensive/poor me (because I can see he’s still stressed or upset), so I’ll encourage him to wait until he’s feeling better before seeking to resolve it. These are really similar mediation principles that I teach parents to use in resolving conflicts between the children; connection before correction, speaking to and empathising with the feelings beneath the needs, using I statements, problem-solving and loving limits when needed.
“But I’m not his mother or his counsellor”
When talking through parental conflicts with clients, something that’s often voiced is that my client, be they the mother or the father, feel that they’re the one doing the majority of the emotional work. They express that they feel the pressure and burden of taking more responsibility for the children’s emotional needs and doing more of the reading and learning. I also see that when I have both parents in front of me and I facilitate the communication in a way that each person ends up getting to express what they need to express and hear their partner express back what they understand they’ve heard and the whole process is held in this way, many misunderstandings surface and get cleared up. Usually one party has been attempting to make similar communication happen at home, but the emotions that get evoked are so very painful and intense and again and again, things have resulted in explosions, be it verbal attacking, raised voices, globalised accusations (you never/ always) or storming off and stonewalling.
It’s very difficult to give that which we wish we were receiving. It’s very difficult to extend more grace towards someone who doesn’t seem to be doing the same for us. Yet for couples to improve their communication, there are a lot of changes that are generally needed to break out of the dysfunctional dynamics.