The importance of a good relationship between the parents for the children’s well-being cannot be overstated. Good parenting is grounded in a good relationship between the parents. Your romantic relationship quality matters.
Most of us are not good at romantic relationships
Growing up most of us have had very little good guidance in relationships. There is often a lot to be desired in what we have learnt about romantic relationships from our parents. We don’t know how to connect, we don’t know how to keep conflict situations under control, and we don’t know how to repair a discussion that is heading the wrong way. Furthermore, we don’t realize how important it is to process hurts and betrayals when they are still small and manageable.
Spousal relationships have a long-lasting impact on children
Sarah Browner-Otto and her team conducted a study in Nepal on how the parent’s marital relationship impacted their children’s transition into adulthood. The results show that the quality of the spousal relationship had an impact on the children’s educational prospects. Children from families where the parents got along were less likely to drop out of school.
Parent’s relationship quality also influenced when the children decided to get married themselves. Children from families where the parents reported low conflict took their time to choose a spouse rather than marry young in order to leave the family home.
When children grow up in a family where there’s a lot of conflict between the parents, they’re worse off than their peers from families where the parents get along.
Spousal arguments make children stressed
When volatility between parents is high, it creates a stressful and unsafe home environment for the children. They grow up with elevated stress levels and this impacts their everyday functioning.
When we feel stressed, it takes up mental bandwidth. We have less resources for other challenges in life, for example our work, hobbies, health, chores and relationships.. When children live with elevated stress levels, they have less bandwidth to focus on their school work. Children may also display behavioural and social problems.
Children from families where there is discord between the parents will not learn about good conflict management and good stress reduction. They often learn to keep their problems to themselves and try and figure things out on their own.
How can you improve your romantic relationship?
You may have recognised that you and your partner are not doing too well in your conflict discussions and in your relationship in general. Here are suggestions on where to start making things better between the two of you:
- Work on your friendship. The more you see each other as friends rather than as enemies the better you will manage conflict. It is especially important that men see their partner as a friend.
- Work on your own emotion regulation skills. The better you are at regulating difficult emotions, the easier it is for you to move from conflict to positive interaction.
- Work on your relationship with your emotions in general. The more you can accept emotions as a state that can give you a lot of information about yourself and the world, the easier it will be for you to understand yourself and your partner. It may be difficult for you to accept and tolerate some specific emotions, such as anger, or it could be that emotions as a general are difficult for you to understand.
- Practice self-soothing techniques. Learn to notice when the discussion becomes stressful for you. When you recognise that you struggle to listen to your partner, it is best to take a break, calm down and return to the discussion later. Learn to notice your body’s stress signals.
- Practice accepting influence. If winning an argument is important to you, you are likely to be destroying your relationship one argument at a time. Dominating decision-making, even if your partner seems to seemingly give in without too much emotional turmoil, will make resentment in them grow over time. Especially men need to make sure that they are open to being influenced by their partner.
- Find ways to bring positive affect into conflict situations. This will reduce hostility and volatility and strengthen your mutual friendship. Ask yourself ‘How can I show my partner I love them, even when we are arguing?’ ‘How can my partner show me they love me when we disagree? What do I need to ask for?’
The suggestions above are not easy to achieve. For most of us, it is a life-long process.
If you notice that you are struggling to practice these new ways of being, ask yourself what your intention is? Why do you want to improve your relationship quality? Do you want your children to have as poor conflict management skills as you have? Or do you want them to be better at relationships? Do you want your children to grow up in an acrimonious home and leave as soon as they can? Or do you rather want your children to thrive now and later in life?
Set your intentions, remind yourself of them when you falter and go back to work.
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.