“How to get my Partner on the Same Page” is a question I see come up frequently in the variety of parenting and other community groups I serve in.
Lots of the time, its mothers of young children, who are already, tired, frustrated and overwhelmed. They’re the primary carer and can feel like they’ve put in all this work, and then the partner comes home and undermines all the efforts of the day.
It’s tough being the at Home Parent
It’s particularly tough for SAHM’s because our kids are pretty much our purpose in life, and we’re doing the very best we can. Then Mr or Ms NOT at home parent comes in and can seem like they undo all that we’ve been working towards.
The thing is, life isn’t about the moments. Sure it’s frustrating to see our partner getting annoyed or even angry at the kids. Our inner mamma bear or lioness gets triggered, and all of a sudden we’re challenging our partner and in front of the kids. Not usually the model of excellence to be demonstrated for our children.
Appropriate Time and Place
Now, I don’t know about you, but my husband is a cool, calm and collected kind of guy. Definitely I was the firecracker in our young parenting days.
However, even he, challenge him in front of the kids, recipe for fracturing (in his quiet way).
Amongst the things that I’ve learned over the years, and especially from my studies and work in human behaviour, is that the masculine has a primal need for appreciation and significance.
That doesn’t mean that we have to pander to them, however, if we want things to happen our way, just like with the kids, is acknowledging that it’s far easier to get our way, when we can meet them in their court first.
As humans, we are pretty self-absorbed
Not to be confused with selfish. Self-absorbed in this instance means that our neurology is programmed to ensure our safety. So even the nicest of us are still doing things with an element of what’s in it for me, at a neurological level.
Some of us are more gifted at being aware of these tendencies, than others. Some of us are more naturally able to prioritise others, and still be meeting their own needs. The practice plays out in all sorts of ways.
When confronted by a situation where your partner is perhaps being less than their best self, while the lioness might want to come protect the kids, if there is no imminent risk of physical injury, then often the best approach is to accept that in the moment, you can’t control the situation. Then loop around with both parties later, with your partner to get some clarity, and with the kid/s to give them a chance to process the experience, though without undermining your partner.
As difficult as it can be to witness, it’s also important to remember that chances are your partner is doing the best they know how AND are capable of in the moment. It’s highly likely they have best interests in mind, even though there might be opportunity for development in the approach.
The one thing I know for certain, that when any of us are criticised that our survival brain is triggered. For those of us, who might be more like my younger self, we go into fight mode. Regardless of whether we hit fight, flight or freeze, we’re no longer capable of processing information. Therefore, any chance of a productive discussion has gone anyway.
The way to avoid the retreat to survival brain is to pick the timing to have the discussion so that our partner, or the kids are calm and receptive.
Then it’s my go to VEC
V for Validate their feelings first. This is so that they feel heard. This way because they feel safe, they stay in thinking brain. When in thinking brain we can have better quality discussions and get to a collaborative outcome.
E for Empathy not sympathy. There is a subtle and significant difference between the two. The key being that Empathy is to be with THEM, sympathy is about us. Empathy drives connection, Sympathy creates disconnection. If you follow Brene Brown, she has a great recording.
C is for Curiosity, this is where we listen without judgement, justification or defensiveness.
In the end, regardless of what was the problem is that we are discussing in those moments, we need information (not interrogation) in order to get a better picture of what was really going on.
In coaching there is this saying “the problem is never the problem”. The truth is that the problem we end up in the animated discussion over, is the effect of the problem that needs to be solved.
When our partner comes in and is reacting to the kids, chances are they are feeling under threat. Just like we have those moments, they do too, so practicing grace and compassion is a great habit to build.
Then, validate eg, seems like you were really frustrated by the kids earlier. It’s ok to get frustrated, the problem is, I don’t like it when there is conflict like that, and I am wondering, could you share with me what really upset you? OR how was that a problem for you? OR something relevant to dig a bit deeper and work through the issue.
In Dr Ross Greene’s book Raising Human Beings, he speaks about collaborative problem solving. What that means is finding the win win win in the issue. This can only happen when parties are prepared to accept that currently the expectations might not be being met, and with a little exploration and compromise that it’s possible to reach a mutually agreeable solution.
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Author – Leanne G Wakeling – Relationship and Communication Coach, Parenting Mentor, Behaviour and Thinking Styles Profiler.