Divide and conquer. Children may not be familiar with that phrase, but they learn the strategy it describes from an early age. If they can drive a wedge between Mom and Dad, they’ll be more likely to achieve whatever it is they want or shift the focus of their parents’ frustration away from themselves and toward each other.

Marriage is never easy, and parenting is one of the toughest things couples have to deal with. Each of us brings our own history and ideas to parenting, and differences and misunderstandings about raising kids can create serious conflicts.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Following these five simple rules can help you keep your marriage strong when your kids are putting your vows to the test:

  1. Maintain perspective. It’s easy to overreact to situations and turn a temporary issue into an overwhelming obstacle. Don’t turn a momentary dispute with the kids into a major battle between the two of you.
  2. Stay respectful. It’s okay (and normal) to disagree with your spouse. What isn’t okay is to turn those disagreements into disrespectful behavior. Name-calling, insults, sarcasm … all those things are destructive and off limits.
  3. Communicate. The biggest factor in a healthy marriage is not money, sex, or shared interests. It’s clear communication that prevents misunderstandings.
  4. Resolve conflicts. If you let conflicts fester, they’ll begin to tear you apart. You don’t have to come to a middle ground every time, but you can reach a point where you accept that you have different viewpoints and move on. (Plus, good conflict resolution is contagious, as your kids will learn from your example.)
  5. Forgive quickly. If your spouse admits or proves to be wrong, don’t lord it over them or keep bringing it up. Forgive them quickly and graciously and you’ll discover they will start to do the same for you.

What do you do if parenting conflicts have already pushed your marriage to the breaking point? One tool our professional counselors like to use is Prepare/Enrich, a customized relationship assessment that identifies a couple’s unique strengths and areas for growth. Couples take the assessment and then meet with the counselor to help them understand the results and develop strategies for solving conflicts. It’s helped many couples from all schedule an appointment today.

Teresa Haskins is a therapist at Care to Change. She has experience helping families express their emotions in more effective ways, and solve conflicts in a way that brings them closer instead of tearing them apart. 

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