Going through a rough patch in a relationship is never easy, but once you have kids it becomes even more difficult. Children are like sponges who absorb everything you say and do. Just because your relationship is suffering, it doesn’t mean your children need to suffer along with it. Using these seven tips can help you to co-parent well when all is not well in your relationship.
1. Be on the same page
It’s important that you’re both in the know about your kids’ lives. Don’t let them suffer academically, socially, in your family life, and in other ways because you are too absorbed in a challenging time in your relationship. Through actions, reinforce the fact that you and your partner are a united front. From big things – like going to birthday parties and parent-teacher conferences together, to smaller things like having dinner as a family, it’s imperative to show your kids that their lives are not impacted because of your relationship.
2. Don’t cave
We all know that children will do anything to get what they want – including turning to dad when mom says no and vice versa. You need to respect the boundaries set by your partner just as you would if your relationship wasn’t experiencing turbulence. Don’t be the one to cave in hopes of being the more favored parent. It’s also important that you continue to equally assign chores, encourage studying, enforce rules, etc. This is not the time or place to ensure favoritism from your children.
3. Be positive
It is never appropriate to pit your partner against your kids, intentionally or unintentionally. Don’t make negative remarks about your spouse directly to your children or talk in a critical way about your spouse in front of your children; this puts them in an impossible situation. Talk about your spouse only with positivity. And if things are that bad in your relationship, it goes back to the golden rule we learned as children – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
4. See a counselor
It’s unfair for you and for your children to be locked in an unhappy household. Couples counseling is an excellent resource to have available, so take advantage of it. The sooner you work things through, the sooner things can return to normal. Don’t let tension build to the point of no return. And while it may seem intimidating to seek out counseling, if you cannot do it for your relationship as a married couple, do it so you can co-parent effectively and with your children’s needs and emotions in mind.
5. Reserve your arguments for when the kids aren’t home
Children pick up on a lot more than we give them credit for. Even when you think you’re whispering, when you’re in the next room, or when you assume they’re asleep, chances are they can probably still hear you. Continual arguments in front of your kids, no matter their age, will have an impact on them. This is especially true if you’re arguing over ways to productively parent; they will receive this as an argument about them.
It’s also important to reserve the tough conversations for when the kids aren’t home. When tension and emotion is high, you never know when a discussion can escalate to loud voices and harsh words. It’s crucial for you and your partner to have conversations about your current relationship situation, i.e., what’s working and what’s not working. Be mindful that these conversations can quickly escalate into heated arguments, something that is difficult and frightening for you children to witness.
6. Take time for yourself
Rough patches in relationships are emotionally exhausting. Parenting and raising children are both physically and mentally exhausting. Combine the two and it could lead to disaster. It’s crucial that both you and your partner get the space you need and deserve. Don’t feel guilty about hiring a babysitter or leaving one partner home with the kids while the other does something for themselves. Alone time or time away from the family will help maintain a positive household in the long run.
7. Remember your goals
It’s important to remember that no matter the status of your relationship, you and your spouse ultimately have the same goal in mind. You both want what’s best for your kids, regardless of what your relationship is weathering. When you feel especially frustrated or exhausted by your partner and your relationship, thinking of your kids as your ultimate priority may be the only way to get through this patch.
Co-parenting while living under the same roof can be challenging, but there is an end in sight. Seeking guidance and support from a qualified counselor can help if you’re looking to rebuild your relationship and maintain harmony in your household.
Lauren Ross is a professional counselor intern and marriage and family therapist associate at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She works with couples to help them through challenging times in their relationship, and to help them be the best parents they can be during tough times. Contact Lauren at 512-270-4883, ext. 107, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.