Keeping Children out of conflict: What to do when you’re not on the same page?
This is the second in our series of blogs on Keeping Children out of Conflict. Our first blog explained what it really means not to argue in front of them. In this blog we will be looking at what to do when you feel like you and your partner are not on the same page about anything. An issue we alluded to in our first blog.
It can be really difficult when you feel like you and your partner cannot see eye to eye on any subject at all. Even simple discussions can end in an argument and you can’t seem to work out why. You can remember a time when you were always talking about things and all conversations didn’t become heated. But maybe that’s because they or you were a different person then and you didn’t have the stresses that you have had lately. Often people feel their partner has changed and have become a different person. We all change as we go through life, experience happy events and sad events, have the responsibility of children, face money worries, change jobs, have to care for older relatives, read more, develop new hobbies and make new friends (this list could be endless!). We always hope that we will grow with our partners and that our dreams will intertwine but sometimes we become people that have different values and ambitions and often this realization can only strike after a period of time of not communicating very well or only at a functional level.
This can lead to big difficulties in relationships and lots of conflict over big issues like parenting, managing household tasks, respective jobs and a whole load of other things. Often a couple can start of being aware of their differences but enjoying the common ground they have and each being intrigued and interested in their differences. When they have children their differences can manifest as parenting disagreements and this can put a huge pressure on the relationship as you struggle to find a way forward to parent together. Sometimes one person gives in and this then starts a small burning resentment in the other that they are not able to parent in a way that feels true to them. Or one parent simply abdicates responsibility and leaves the other parent to do the parenting whilst they focus on other responsibilities.
Relationships are complicated beasts and most couples feel their way forward and sometimes the way forward they find it the one that produces least arguments. These are put away and buried but as both parties change and grow there can become a desire to return to a more authentic version of themselves and the arguments can then resurface with an intensity. Quickly you arrive at the conclusion that you have nothing in common any more and you don’t even really like each other. This makes it exceptionally difficult to co-parent and to resolve issues on which you are so opposed to each other.
The first step is to decide if you want to save the relationship. If you do then finding a therapist who specializes in relationship difficulties is a good starting step. It may be a long and difficult road to unpicking what has happened and establishing a solid and respectful relationship but if there is a genuine desire by both parties to make the relationship a good one again then it can be done. If you feel that the time has come to separate then you will of course need a long term plan for what happens with regard to money and children and any other issues. This is beyond the discussion in this blog.
You will also need a short term plan. You have a shared objective to sort out being able to live separately and you need to draw on what this will give you to manage what happens in the short term as constructively as possible. If you can accept that the primary objective is to effect a separation, rather than to try to change it other then this may be helpful. There may resentment about the other’s feelings and the way that they have changed. Either of you may feel the other person has not behaved honorably. Or has been disingenuous but endless arguments about whether this is the case is unlike to assist matters.
The priority must be to have a plan in place as to how you are going to make long term arrangements but also to address what happens in the short term before you are able to physically separate. For many people securing a temporary bolt hole so that you can separate immediately is not possible. You will need to make arrangements about how you organised paying bills and any other expenses in the short term. You also need to discuss how you will tell your children and what arrangements you will make for them both in the short term and the longer term once you live apart.
If there are real fundamental parenting differences then you’ll need to think how you address these going forwards. There is no rule that says that mum and dad have to be cardboard copies of each other and children can benefit from being exposed to different ways of thinking. It depends what you disagree on and whether that is likely to create a conflict for your children going forwards in terms of boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. It can be really hard to have a calm discussion about things you feel very strongly about when the other person has a very different view to you. You may need the help of a trained professional to find a way forward. This may be a mediator or might be a family therapist to give you expert guidance on what will support your children best. You may also need support as an individual if you find managing your emotions difficult because you feel so strongly about the situation. Part of moving forward will be accepting that you are different people and your role is to find a way you can work together rather than trying to get you both to agree on everything (an impossible task that will only leave you frustrated and exhausted with and by each other).
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