Make a New Year’s Resolution to “Get on the Same Page” with your spouse!

I recently did a podcast with on this topic – how do you get on the same page with your spouse, when it comes to parenting? Click here if you’d like to listen

This topic is near and dear to my heart for many reasons. First, I know during my 13 year marriage, one of the most common sources of conflict is debating over how to discipline and raise our children. Second, I frequently observe most of my clients struggling to maintain consistency between spouses and undermining each other’s authority when it comes to parenting.

One of the number one sources of conflict for couples is parenting disagreements. Frequently, parents become more polarized in parenting styles, discipline techniques, and expectations for children’s behavior over time. The parent who is slightly more permissive becomes much more lax in the face of a parent who initially was slightly more strict, but is now extremely rigid and demanding.  Couples feel they are constantly compensating for the other parent’s weakness and this lack of unity leads to a great divide between the couple.  On a day to day basis, couples are often undermining the power and authority of the other parent. They may do it in subtle ways (i.e., “Did Daddy REALLY say no t.v. for the rest of the night?!”) or in an outright obvious manner (i.e., “Mommy is wrong. She shouldn’t have let you stay up late like this. This isn’t good. Go to bed!”). Parents may question the other spouse’s punishment IN FRONT OF THE CHILD! The father may say, “You can’t ground him for that, that’s not fair!” Couples may have frequent arguments about parenting and feel like they are individual parents rather than co-parents. This division leads to the couple feeling a lack of intimacy, constantly irritated and stressed, and eventually a lack of trust.

So how do couple’s try to resolve this? Many couples TRY to get on the same page by “giving in” to make their spouse happy. For example, a wife might say, “Fine, I’ll be better about disciplining them. But you’ve got to stop screaming at them so much!” This type of pseudo-compromise might work in the very short term. But without a more fundamental shift in the individuals’ perspectives about co-parenting and the need to present a united front, couples quickly drift back to bad habits. They may argue, criticize the other parent, try to get the child(ren) on “their side”, and sabotage the other parent’s efforts to be a good parent.

Couples who are seeking a permanent resolution to overcoming the divide need to strive for the following:

  • You and your spouse need to be explicit with each other about what your rules and expectations are. If necessary, write them down, review them and be sure they are workable. In areas in which you differ, find a compromise that you both can live with – and stick by it.
  • You and your spouse need to commit yourselves to communicate about every significant issue in your family life. At least once a day the two of you need to check in with each other and discuss what happened that day that was important. At the same time, talk about long-term issues that may be confronting the family.
  • You and your spouse need to resolve your own ambivalence on important family matters and agree on a position on these issues. For example, if you’re confused about the benefits and harm of spanking, you need to research the topic or seek expertise of a child psychologist, then make a decision TOGETHER about whether you will spank or not.
  • Present a united front to your children. Spouses need to communicate with each other about rules and consequences for the children. Children always look for a kink in the armor between the parents, so make sure you agree on the rules. Children learn how to play one parent against the other, so parents should confer and agree on rules, requests, and discipline before sharing their decision with the children.
  • Find ways to cooperate, not compete, with each other. That doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything; but it does mean that you are committed to working together toward a more harmonious relationship and family life, and you are not going to let differences undermine your common goals. Each of you needs to demonstrate some flexibility.
  • Learn the skills of conflict resolution. These include:
    • Listening
    • Clarifying points of difference
    • Taking each other’s feelings seriously
    • Generating alternative solutions together
    • Negotiating
  • If you and your spouse disagree over how to handle your child’s behavior, it should never be discussed in front of your child-period. Realize that when one parent undermines the other parent in this way, it hurts both parents. That’s because your child is going to question both of you. Sometimes, kids feel like they have to choose sides. And not only that, they’re going to feel insecure that the two of you don’t seem to know what to do-because after all, if you knew what to do, you’d be agreeing. So these things have to be handled privately.

Make it your #1 “Couple’s” New Year’s Resolution to solidify “Team Parents”! Parenting is hard enough as is. Turn to your spouse as a valuable teammate and see how 2012 can be the best year yet!

Wynns Family Psychology often works with couples and parents to offer practical and solution-focused tips to improve a family’s functioning and happiness. Visit for more info.


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