In last week’s article, I spoke about the need for boundaries in the family. Boundaries help children to understand the world, when they are communicated clearly and are not oppressive, writes Richard Hogan.
Then, they make children feel safe and secure. However, there is another boundary to consider, one that promotes a healthy relationship between the parents as they endeavour to meet the demands on the modern family.
The boundary I’m speaking about is the space a couple places around itself, which allows for the couple to be a couple, free from talk about the children or conflict.
A space that ensures the couple can find its way back to those early days, when all they had was each other and they were united, setting out on their journey together.
What often happens with a couple, as they navigate family life together, is that when issues arise, their conversations can become quite problem-saturated and they can start to view each other as the cause of those problems.
Parents can feel like they are doing a poor job of raising their children. And, often, they blame each other, when they see their child acting out.
This can lead to conflict between the couple, as they struggle to implement the rules they believe are important for rearing a healthy child.
So, having a boundary that ensures the couple have moments in the day or week that is just for them, free from talk of the children, is important for a healthy, loving relationship. This space will also help to improve your interactions with the children, as the intimacy you feel in your private relationship will begin to permeate the whole family.
When a couple first meet, they rarely wonder about the partner’s family of origin and the way he/she was brought up. They are too busy falling in love.
But when they set out on building a family together, these earlier, irrelevant bits of information can come back into the relational dynamic and drive a wedge between the couple, without them even knowing what is causing the disharmony.
When I first meet a couple, in my practice, who are in a conflict like this, I often say: ‘so it seems like your family of origin’s parenting strategies have come into conflict.’ I can see the look of surprise in the couple’s eyes, but also the look of relief.
It’s not so much that they are fighting, but, rather, their parents’ parenting strategies are in direct conflict and these are finding expression through the proxy of their relationship.
The couple have come to realise the cause of the conflict.
So, couples need to understand that they bring with them the weight of all those intergenerational parenting styles, which have come down through all the years, and that when conflict does arrive, which it will, you need to have a space free from that conflict, where you can simply be two people in love.
I often ask a couple: how do you listen to each other?
And what does your conflict-free space sound and look like? Often, I have to allocate the time in the week when the couple goes out and spends time together without talking about their children and the issues that have come up for them during the week.
When a couple’s conversations become problem-saturated, they find those initial conversations difficult, because all they know how to talk about are problems and the children.
They get caught in an unhealthy communication loop and finding a space free from all that talk is about breaking that loop. Of course, you need to discuss the issues in the family, but that is for a different time.
Finding time for each other is difficult. We have so many demands on us, as a couple and as parents. It is very easy to get lost in the dance of parenting.
But you have to set aside time for each other. Time that is just for the two of you, free from all the problems and issues that have come up during the course of any given period in a couple’s life. You will face challenges as a couple, one of the biggest of which will be to remain in touch with each other.
At times, you can come to view each other as workers, or like ships in the night, briefly passing on your way through the week.
But setting aside time, where you connect with each other and check in with each other, to see how you are doing, will be one of the most significant changes you make in your relationship.
And it will strengthen that relationship.
Richard Hogan is a school teacher, systemic family psychotherapist, and father of three.
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