As we considered having kids, my wife and I agreed to do whatever it took to maintain a healthy marriage, especially amid unexpected challenges. By the time we began welcoming our children into the home, we were ready to provide them with the stable foundation of our respectful and loving marriage.
How parental relationships can affect your children
Our firm commitment to our relationship was fostered by the relationships we saw between our own parents and other prominent examples in our lives. I was raised in a relatively traditional home, with my father being the sole wage earner and my mother staying home with us kids.
Overall, my childhood home was a happy one; though, there are some more patriarchal aspects in my childhood home that my wife and I agreed didn’t have a place in our future family.
My wife’s childhood was not so happy. Her parents often fought loudly, and while there was no physical abuse, the mental and emotional abuse they hurled at each other made a significant impact on my wife and her siblings.
However, my wife was determined to break that cycle so that our children wouldn’t feel the same negative feelings she felt. We have made respect at all times a cornerstone of our marriage.
What kids learn from your marriage is invaluable and leaves an indelible mark on them. That’s why it is imperative that you treat your spouse in valuable ways.
In recent years, research has validated our caution, as a condition called child affected by parental relationship distress (CAPRD), has been added to the DSM-5. As many have known for years, watching parents in a contentious relationship can lead children to:
- Develop behavioral or cognitive issues
- Somatic complaints
- Parental alienation
- Internal loyalty conflict
Parental modeling makes all the difference
Grim warning aside, there are many ways parents can model positive behaviors in their interactions. It is crucial to follow some effective ways to treat your spouse with respect.
Some things parents can do for each other which teach their children important lessons are:
Divide up work evenly
I work from home, and my wife’s work schedule can vary depending on the season. So, one chore I have completely taken over is making all the meals, including packed lunches for the family.
Though I never had much of an opportunity to cook until college, I genuinely enjoy making food for my family and my sons can see that real men do what is needed. My wife handles the dishes, and the rest of the chores are broken up in a similar fashion, helping our children to understand that their mother and I are equal partners.
Communicate feelings honestly
Sometimes parents will poke each other’s emotional sore spots, generally with no ill intentions. I did this the other day during dinner, making some off-hand comment which hurt my wife’s feelings.
Instead of ignoring me and pretending everything was fine or blowing up, my wife simply replied that what I said had hurt her and asked if I meant it the way I had said it. Naturally, I didn’t, but even though I didn’t mean it, I did still make sure to apologize for the hurt.
Our children have seen us communicate in this open and honest fashion their whole lives, and have returned that openness in how they communicated with us as well as their friends. While not all their friends were able to handle direct communication, many were, and our children have been able to enjoy healthy friendships.
If you are concerned that your children may be picking up on discord between you and your spouse, I highly recommend finding a good marriage counselor. My wife and I have been able to continually refine how we parent and keep our focus on our marriage and family with the help of our counselor, and I believe any committed parents can find a way to work together for their family’s sake.