Written by Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, the Marriage in a Box blog shares insights into common relationship struggles, gives ideas for moving beyond the roadblocks, and helps you find your path to happiness – both individually and within your relationship.
When we were growing up, Mom and Dad held more traditional roles. Mom was typically a housewife and Dad the breadwinner and stern disciplinarian. Times have changed.
Moms have entered the workplace in record numbers, and Dads have become much more involved in parenting. Both Mom and Dad hold strong opinions about discipline, nutrition and diet, and safety. When they disagree about these issues, an ugly marital and family fight can erupt.
All parents disagree over parenting issues, but if parenting styles continually clash or result in extreme conflicts, marriages, and children's healthy development fall by the wayside. Now more than ever, a united parenting front is necessary.
How to Get Into Agreement on Parenting Issues
Your child has asked if they can watch one more TV show before bedtime. Your spouse comes in and turns off the TV and tells the child to go in and brush their teeth and get to bed. Tears and screaming bring you running into the room to find that each of you has confused and upset the child by giving them conflicting directions. It all could have been avoided by telling your child “ let me talk to your dad about it.”
Make a Disciple Plan together.
You can't anticipate every situation, but you and your spouse can sit down and discuss and agree on basic or essential disciplinary issues. Discuss with your partner how you both will handle your child's temper tantrums or bad behavior. Make sure each of you holds your child to similar rules and uses complementary styles of discipline.
Respect Your Partner's Point of View
Even if you think your partner's suggestion is ridiculous, he or she may have a good reason for making it. Listen and be respectful rather than becoming condescending and assume that you know what is best. Discuss some options that you both can buy into before making a decision.
Be Willing to Compromise
If you can't agree on a standard rule for everything, be willing to compromise once in a while. Take your husband's suggestion on an issue that you don't feel strongly about in return for him taking your idea the next time. Like everything else in your marriage, talking and compromising is vital.
Remember You are a United Front
Even if it took you and your spouse two hours to agree on a strategy; don't let your child know. Let them see that you are both on the same page. They will be less likely to play you against each other or argue with you.
Most people think of vacations as a great way to get away from it all, relax and unwind. However, not all family vacations are idyllic trips to paradise. Many family vacations are trips to visit in-laws, extended family or big family reunions that can bring both happiness and stress for your marriage. Here are ten tips to protect your marriage as you vacation with in-laws or extended family.
- Adjust your mindset. Whether the extended family is yours or your spouses or both, keep in mind that you or your spouse grew up with them. Having extended family come with you on vacation is way to support and love your spouse.
- Choose a place with enough space for everyone. Crowding lots of people into a small home or condo is just invitation for trouble. Everyone needs their own space to do what they like to do and take a moment for themselves. If your home is not large enough to accommodate your extended family, suggest renting hotel rooms on the same floor, two condos, or hotels near your home.
- Involve in-laws or extended family in the planning. Planning a vacation for a large group of people is takes a lot of time and can be stressful. Let everyone else help with the planning. Divide up the responsibilities like planning meals, grocery lists, renting rooms or houses, transportation, a few group activities, etc. This way, everybody is part of the vacation plan, and no one should have to do it all themselves.
- Set a welcoming tone. Just as you are not used to being with in-laws and extended family 24/7, they are not used to it either. Make your extended family feel welcome and wanted. Kindness and laughter can go a long way to ease the awkwardness and stress.
- Prepare to set some boundaries. You know your family better than your extended family does. If they are early risers and you are not, plan how to let them know how to get the coffee going and grab some quick breakfast snacks so they don’t expect you to prepare a large family breakfast at 6 a.m. If the kids need a nap after lunch so they don’t get cranky, let extended family know that the hour after lunch is “quiet time”.
- Accept help. Many in-laws and extended family members will welcome the opportunity to pitch in and help prepare meals, straighten up the condo or home, and spend extra time with their grandchildren. Let them! Accepting help will give you and your spouse some time for yourselves.
- Share the costs. Few married couples can afford the costs of taking 6 to 10 people on vacation. Most extended family members will be glad to help with the financial costs by paying for meals out, groceries, lodging, activities. etc.
- Don’t overschedule Activities. Even though schedules and routines work well for your home life, scheduling every moment of everyone’s day on vacation isn’t a good idea. It’s stressful to follow someone else’s schedule with no time for yourself. Your idea of fun might not be what everyone else thinks is fun.
- Don’t overwhelm in-laws with kids. Kids often love time with grandparents, cousins etc. and want to spend 24/7 playing and doing. That can be exhausting for your in-laws. Speak up and suggest a time-out to give everyone time to regain their energy.
- Be Flexible and Enjoy the vacation. Whenever a group of relatives get together, there are bound to be instances where arguments or disagreements flare up. This person wants to go to this restaurant, someone does not want to join in an activity, etc. Do what you can to cool down the situation. Suggest a Plan B or some time apart.
Remember that it’s not about what you do or where, it is who you are vacationing with. It’s all about spend time together and making memories to talk about for years to come.
Traveling with the kids has its challenges. Packing and carrying all the extra gear for little ones like strollers, toys, diapers, etc. does not exactly put you in the mood for romance. However, a family vacation is not just for the kids. Mom & Dad need vacation time too and some time for each other. It’s important for your children to see that you love each other in order for them to feel secure. You are also providing a picture of a healthy marital relationship for your kids. So, how can you sneak a little romance into that family vacation?
Plan ahead to include some romance in your Family vacation. Consider sleeping arrangements, such as adjoining hotel rooms or a hotel suite. If you cannot afford another hotel room or a suite, wait until the children are asleep and head down to the hotel bar. Some vacation hotels have supervised kid clubs where you can drop the kids off for a few hours for a fee and go off on your own for a little romance.
Incorporate small little “love winks” into your day with the family. As you spend time on the beach with the family, chase your spouse into the water for a quick embrace. If you are hiking in a national park, hold hands as you walk or give your spouse a love peck on the cheek. Take some time while you inch your way through the lines at the amusement park to put your arms around your spouse’s shoulders and hug. Little “love winks” let your partner know that you are thinking about them, wanting them, and loving them.
Go ahead and flirt with your spouse. When you were dating, there was a lot of flirting going on before any physical romance took place. Time to drag that flirt out of the closet and spring it on your spouse. Whisper something sexy in their ear as you brush past them in the hotel room. Snuggle up against them on the beach as you watch the kids play. Say something suggestive in front of the kids and listen to your kids giggle as your spouse blushes. Flirting is a way of romancing your partner and showing them that you still have that “spark” for them.
Use your imagination and get creative. Wherever you are staying, even if it is a one room motel room, you can create a little romance. Put the kids down to sleep and grab a bottle of wine or a cocktail and a candle and slip out of the room to the balcony. Light the candle, open the wine and enjoy gazing at the stars and cuddling together. If your room is near the motel pool, take a late-night dip in the pool and watch the temperature rise.
Stolen romantic moments that belong just to the two of you are the memories you carry for a lifetime. So go ahead and put some spice in your family vacation.
Most couples dread planning a summer vacation. There are so many options it is difficult to settle on just one. A vacation requires careful planning because there are so many details to manage to avoid potential conflict and overspending. While many spouses let one handle the vacation details, it is a much better idea to plan the vacation together.
Here are some ground rules for planning the vacation with your spouse.
- Don’t take over the decision making. You both should discuss what things you want from your vacation and any concerns you have about the vacation. You both want to be on the same page about where you are going, what you are going to do there, and how much you have to spend.
- Be prepared to compromise. Each of you has unique tastes and preferences, but you want to make sure that everyone will be happy with the vacation arrangements. Respect your spouse’s opinion and be willing to give a little to make it work.
- Don’t argue or fight over the small things. If you cannot agree on something about the vacation plan, agree to discuss that item at a later time and keep planning the vacation.
As you plan, remember that the more decisions you make ahead of vacation time, the fewer conflicts you will have to deal with on vacation.
- Take time to Dream.
Choosing a destination is the starting point for any vacation plan, because it determines everything else. Use your imagination as you discuss memories of places you went as a child, places you always wanted to go, or the type of vacation. Do you want to rent a house, a hotel room, a condo and plan your own activities? Perhaps you would like a cruise or vacation club where everything is included.
- Decide your vacation budget and stick to it. You and your spouse can decide how much you have available to spend for vacation. Have some fun researching and sharing what you find on the internet for transportation, places to stay, restaurants, can’t miss things to see and do. Sit down together and develop a budget and don’t forget to include “mad money” for must have kid toys etc.
- Identify possible argument hot buttons ahead of time and make a plan to avoid them.
- Don’t expect mom to cook every meal while on vacation. If you rent a house or condo, plan to shop for or bring food that you know everyone will eat and keep it simple. If you plan to stay in a hotel, chose one with breakfast included so everyone will have a variety to choose from. Scout out restaurants with a variety of food for everyone in your budget range in the area of your vacation destination. Decide where to eat each day or night before you get there.
- Keep in mind the ages of your children when planning vacation activities. You may really want to go water skiing, however, if your children are all under the age of 8, you may want to take a babysitter or grandparents along so they can watch the little ones while you go do some “grown up” activities. On the flip side, older children are easily bored, so plan to keep them busy with sightseeing or adventure activities.
- Space and Downtime. Whenever is crammed into a tiny hotel room together, tempers can flare. Get adjoining rooms or rent something with some extra space. It’s tempting to want to go-go-go while one vacation, everyone gets cranky when they miss a nap or don’t get enough sleep. Build time in the vacation schedule each day for downtime.
The simple act of planning a vacation with your spouse can bring you closer together and you can enjoy it as much as the vacation itself.
We adore our children and feel such a sense of responsibility to them that we tend to make them the top priority all the time. As children grow, they understand our nature and often reinforce this by being “squeaky wheels,” demanding our attention. The challenge of parenting is providing structure and love for your children while at the same time carving out time for your marriage. Establishing boundaries can help.
Boundaries help define the line between parenting and time as a couple.
Some couples unconsciously let their children become the central focus of the household to such an extent that the boundaries between parent, spouse and child become blurred.
Helicopter parents do for their children what they can and should do for themselves.
When you become nervous about your child’s success or ability to handle things in school, with friends, in sports, etc. it’s natural to want to jump in and take control instead of letting your child work things out for themselves. We naturally want to make things better for our kids and “fix things.” However, when you don’t let your child work through obstacles on their own, you’re denying them the opportunity to learn how to fight their own battles.
Your job as a parent is to guide, coach, and teach your children. When you begin to do everything for your children, you’ve crossed the parent boundary.
Overindulgent parents give up their parental authority and allow their child to take control of the household.
Parents who strive to be their child’s friend have difficult putting their foot down and saying No to their children. They tend to have few rules, no consequences or punishments for poor behavior. Some substitute things for time with their children. Every parent wants their child’s love but indulging their every whim creates the opposite effect. Children crave and need structure via rules, a set schedule, and consequences for disobeying. The absence of rules and structure is neglect.
Your role as a parent is to be firm but loving to your children. Kids need boundaries. Without them they lose their way. They need clear rules and consistent consequences. But they need them to be delivered with love, understanding and kindness. Talking about the reasons for rules and consequences helps kids understand why they need to follow rules.
How to establish boundaries so you and your spouse parent responsibly but have time for yourselves.
Define your boundaries.
You need to establish physical and time boundaries that establish privacy.
- Your bedroom is a kid-free zone, free from kid clutter and designed for romance and couple time.
- If your bedroom door is shut, children need to knock on the door and wait for permission to enter.
- If you and your spouse are engaged in conversation, children should say, “excuse me” and wait politely for a chance to enter the conversation.
- No means No.
Make your expectations known to your children.
You and your spouse should make a list of what you can and can’t live with. What matters most to you? If respect is high on your list, you may want to implement a consequence for talking back to you or addressing you rudely. If responsibility is important to you than you may want to assign weekly chores and consequences for not doing them.
Praise their successes and follow up on their failures.
When your kids have a great week, make sure you let them know it. When one of your kids crosses a boundary or breaks a rule, follow up with the consequence.
Establishing boundaries with your children will make your household a more peaceful environment and provide clear time for you
Boundaries are what we use to stop damaging behavior. Our everyday life is filled with boundaries.
- We send out children to time out when they hit someone.
- We don’t eat a second dessert to control our weight.
- We don’t drink and drive.
When it comes to boundaries in our relationships, people are often confused about the purpose of boundaries.
Boundaries are not:
- Telling people what you don’t like; that’s criticism. Criticism only creates conflict and distance.
- Trying to make someone do something; that’s control. Control only creates avoidance and distance.
- Shouting, commanding, arguing, complaining, threatening, or nagging. These are just words that cause conflict.
- Lines you won’t cross.
- Behavior that you won’t put up with.
- Actions that are always under your control.
A boundary is an action you take or refuse to take to end a damaging behavior and restore respect in your relationship.
When you allow people to mistreat you in any way, they lose respect for you. They also feel more powerful than you and care less and less about you.
Boundaries are an effective alternative to arguing or pleading with your spouse to change.
Talking is important in relationships but talking about problems sometimes leads to increased conflict. When communication breaks down and is ineffective, our actions can communicate better than words. Telling your husband to do or not do something is not a boundary. For example, if you say:
“I want you to stop yelling at me.”
That is not a boundary because it is completely under your spouse’s control. You have clearly stated what you want, however they can freely defy you and yell at you as it suits them. Commands, threats, and pleading cannot make your spouse do something. It lets your spouse know you are upset but it does not motivate them to change.
“Whenever you yell at me, I’m going to walk away.” The next time your spouse yells at you, walk away.
This is true boundary because walking away is under your control. Also, you are the one who gets to decide what is yelling. Although your spouse may choose to yell, walking away is not under their control. Walking away whenever they do that shows them that you will no longer tolerate that behavior. Done consistently, changing what you do will change what they do. After a few weeks, your spouse will likely have stopped yelling and talk to you in a more respectful tone.
Boundaries are last step to change a damaging behavior that threatens your marriage.
When your spouse is doing something that you don’t like, but is not immediately threatening or damaging, loving communication should be used first. Loving communication is telling your spouse what you want and why it is important for the both of you.
Honey, what do you think about setting aside time every evening for us to talk about our budget and savings?
If loving communications fail, you can become more assertive.
Honey, we really need to make a budget, cut down our expenses, and start saving or we will never have enough money saved up for a down payment on a house.
If this level of communication also fails, then the next step is to communicate your boundary. It is not up for discussion or debate. It is the way things are going to be.
Honey, I love you and I don’t want expenses piling up that will destroy our marriage. I have opened separate bank accounts for my income and expenses, and I will contribute my share of the bills from that and save on my own.
Use Boundaries with Love to restore your relationship.
Once you have put the boundary in place, you don’t need to bring it up again. However, remember to continue to show your love for your spouse daily. If you put up a boundary and withdraw affection, it will not inspire your spouse to change and desire a connection with you.
When you agreed to marry, you both decided that you loved each so much that you wanted to spend the rest of your lives with each other. By repeating your marriage vows, you agreed to love each other unconditionally and bond yourselves together as man and wife. To ensure your marriage remains healthy, you both need to do what is necessary to protect that bond between you.
Each partner has parents and relatives, friends of the same sex and of the opposite sex, and co-workers that they spend time with and talk to. How you handle relatives, friends and co-workers can either enhance your marriage relationship or hurt it.
- How would your spouse feel about you talking to your parents about something you both have not discussed yet?
- Do you think your spouse would react well to a social media post of you and an old flame having lunch at a restaurant?
- Is your spouse okay with you choosing to go out with friends rather than stay home with them?
- Would your spouse be understanding If you stay late at work with a co-worker of the opposite sex?
To protect the bond between you and your spouse, boundaries are important. Boundaries are the key to keeping your marriage healthy. Here are some boundaries you and your spouse should discuss create plan for to protect you from danger.
Boundaries with Extended Family
While some extended family members can be helpful and supportive, others can be overly critical or difficult to get along with, which can create stress in your marriage.
Create ground rules that will help you build a healthy relationship with your in-laws and extended family.
- Never throw your spouse under the bus. If you receive an invitation from a family member, agree to tell them you need to check with your spouse to make sure that date is available rather than just accept or decline.
- Never allow extended family to trash talk your spouse. You and your spouse are a team, and you need to support each other. You both need to agree to politely ask family members to be respectful of your relationship with your spouse.
- Never discuss private marriage matters with your family. You may be mad at your spouse and call your sister to vent. DON’T. When you are over your anger and you and your spouse have made up, your sister will still be thinking about the J_ _ K you married.
Boundaries with Friends
Everyone needs friends they can pal around with and talk to about life’s ups and downs. However, sometimes friendships can raise a red flag to a spouse or create a division between you and your spouse. You and your spouse should sit down and discuss how you can both create healthy balance between friends and your marriage.
- Don’t air your dirty laundry to your friends. Avoid talking outside your relationship about issues you and your spouse haven’t discussed together.
- Don’t spend too much time with friends of the opposite sex. Spending too much time with an opposite-sex friend can endanger the health of your marriage. While there may be nothing untoward going on, why insert jealousy and distrust in your marriage?
- Don’t choose your friends over your spouse. While outings with the guys or nights out with the girls are fun every now and then, agree not to make them a regular habit. You and your spouse need time together to bond as well.
Boundaries with Co-workers and Superiors
Relationships with co-workers can often be difficult to navigate. You spend a lot of time a work and often develop close friendships with people you work with. Superiors will ask you to stay late or come in early or perhaps work on a weekend to get projects completed. You and your spouse need to develop a plan to handle your co-workers and superiors so that their demands do not interfere with your marriage.
- Avoid talking about private marital issues with co-workers. Leave your private matters and home and your work issues at work.
- Avoid staying late to work with co-workers or superiors of the opposite sex. Spending too much time after hours at work can blur the boundaries between working relationships and intimate relationships. Avoid that temptation and spend your after hours with your spouse.
- Avoid giving up your free time to please your boss. Ambition is admirable, but you need to make your marriage a priority.
Most couples will experience communication difficulties at some point in their marriage, especially those who don’t take the time to understand one another’s communication style. Too many partners make assumptions about what their spouse wants and needs, which gets in the way of effective communication. The idea of a “love language” was pioneered by US relationship counsellor and author Gary Chapman, and it may be the single most effective tool you can use in communicating.
There are five different love languages. Most of us have one or two that reliably and effectively make us feel loved, through good and bad times. However, both partners need all five love languages used for effective communication to become less about conflict and more about connection.
THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES
- Affirmation: Love means never having to say you’re sorry. What you say to your partner and how you say it will either build them up or tear them down. Every person needs an outward expression of affection, kindness, and their importance from you. Kind words and expressions of gratitude and praise can stir up feelings of longing in your partner.
- Deeds and Acts: Love means giving of yourself. What do you do to show your love and appreciation, through unselfish acts for your partner? Offer to help out with daily chores or errands and let them know you are thinking of them with random texts, cards or notes. Focus on small things you can do every day to keep your spouse thinking about you, desiring you, and thankful they have you.
- Gifts: Love is unconditional. Gifts are things or intangible things that you give to your spouse to show your love, affection and appreciation of them. Your spouse isn’t perfect. He or she is flawed and imperfect, just like you. He or she is a human being with the inborn potential for human error, selfishness, anger, and pride. Demanding perfection is not only unrealistic; it’s setting your spouse, and your marriage up for failure. Give him or her the gift to fail every now and then, and the assurance that you love and support him or her despite their flaws and imperfections.
- Quality Time: Love makes you want to give your time and attention to your partner. How often do you and your spouse spend time as a couple talking, listening, laughing, or playing? Turn off the phone, tune out the distractions, and pay attention to your spouse. Make time every day to check in with your spouse. Make time every week to spend “couples” time together. Quality time builds your relationship and connection to one another.
- Touch: Don’t withhold physical intimacy and sex. A lack of intimacy, withholding sex or only brief physical encounters can lead to this partner feeling neglected and questioning your feelings for them. Make it a point to kiss them, hug them or hold their hand. Schedule regular time for sex and physical intimacy to nurture your relationship. Participating wholeheartedly in the intimate act of sex with your spouse shows them your vulnerability and your love for them.
For five days, communicate using the five love languages for each other This will create positive momentum. At the end, talk about what you liked best and least, what the challenges were, what responses you noticed. Agree to pay attention to each other’s love languages from now on.
Our Love language can deepen the marriage relationship and create a bond of intimacy that is so essential to your marriage.