If you’re a parent, successfully raising your children is an important goal. Would it surprise you if I said there’s an even greater role to play? Cultivating a strong, healthy and harmonious relationship with your partner is even more critical than how you parent your kids.
According to psychologist John Gottman, “how healthy your relationship is with your partner determines the social, emotional and academic success of your child” (Gottman, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child). If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, over time your children will develop insecurities, parental dependence and lower intelligence scores.
For most of us, we think that focusing on our children first is what counts. But Gottman’s research shows us that while being appropriately attached to our children is essential, so is fostering a healthy relationship with our significant others.
If you’ve noticed lately that your relationship has taken a hit, you may not also realize the impact it has on your children. Here are seven relationship mistakes to avoid in front of your kids so that you don’t instill negative relationship habits.
1. Undermining your partner’s authority.
This might sound familiar to you if you were really good at “playing both parents” as a kid yourself. If you’ve ever seen your child override your authority through the other parent because of an undesirable response, don’t be mad at your child. They’re only testing the waters to see how far they can go.
Not being aligned with your partner or undermining their decision shows your child that they can easily get what they want. It also shows them that mom and dad are not on the same page. Instead, inform your child that you’ll get back to them once you talk it over with your spouse. You’ll want to come to an agreement to show uniformity and consistency. It also shows your children that valuing your partner’s opinion is a good thing.
2. Fighting in front of the kids.
Having disagreements and conflict in front of the kids is OK, but if you find yourself throwing out accusations, raising your voice or bringing your child into the dispute, then you’re on a downward spiral. Having healthy arguments where you’re calm, attentive and responsive to your partner shows your child that people fight but can also problem-solve and find resolution. The latter shows them that relationships function on insults, blame and defensiveness.
3. Not being affectionate.
Affection is a form of love. If you’re being cold and distant with your spouse, it can make your children feel uncomfortable while also sending the message that relationships are tense and unhappy. Nonverbal body language is just as powerful as saying something out loud, so show affection and intimacy to your partner often.
4. Talking down to or speaking negatively about your partner.
If you have a tendency to bash your partner to your kids, it can have significant negative consequences. Children will often blame themselves and think that your disregard for the other parent is their fault. They’ll also feel like they have to choose sides and will grow up to think that criticism is a part of every relationship. It’s actually one of the greatest predictors of divorce.
5. Parenting apart rather than together.
Life is busy, and we often divide household responsibilities as well as parenting roles. “You take Susie here and I’ll transport Jimmy there.” “You play with the baby while I make dinner.” Tag-teaming is a great way to get things done, but if this is the ordinary setup in your home, it doesn’t show inclusiveness to all family members. It’s important to co-parent. It not only creates family solidarity but boosts happiness for the couple.
6. Not instituting a daily family ritual.
Family rituals are essential for creating family cohesiveness, strong bonds with your spouse and children as well as an overall happy and peaceful home life. Make one thing a tradition each day in your home. If it’s eating breakfast together before starting the day or making dinner together as a family, you’ll want to instill something that says “spending time together as a family is important.”
7. Ignoring your partner.
After a heated argument with your spouse, you might still be angry, especially if the argument got you nowhere. If your natural tendency is to shut down and ignore your partner as a means of punishment, everyone, not just your spouse, feels the sting. Avoid creating an atmosphere of turbulence by taking a break if needed and coming back to the discussion at hand. If you still can’t find a resolution, agree to disagree and find a way to get past it for the sake of everyone in the home.
We all want to be good parents to our kids but we often neglect our relationships in order to do so. By avoiding these common pitfalls, you’ll not only be the best co-parenting team possible, but great partners, too. Your children see and emulate how you speak to and treat your partner, so vow to make your relationship a healthy one.