Taking Care of Adult Relationships

Taking Care of Adult Relationships

This is a compilation of true stories from several families.

It is 10:00 at night Ellen has fallen asleep with her two children even though she has tried hard not to (interrupted sleep the night before hasn’t helped). Her partner, Victor, is cleaning up after dinner, making tomorrow’s lunches and looking forward to sitting in front of the computer before bed. Neither has had the time to straighten out the toys scattered around the living room. Victor looks around realizing again that their apartment, once spacious for 2 adults and a new baby, is way too small for their family of four.

On top of the routine stress they handle everyday, Ellen has recently recovered from a serious health challenge and Victor has been temporarily furloughed from his job.

Ellen walks into the kitchen groggy from her unplanned and poorly timed nap and Victor begins, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about the parent teacher conference tomorrow, now I have to change a work call that is going to be next to impossible to rearrange.” Ellen apologizes and starts wiping the counter. “I never understand why you can’t finish the pots when you clean up,” she mumbles, “and what was going on when you when you were yelling at Harry earlier?”

None of these “conversations” go well. Both parents end up heading to bed at different times feeling upset, frustrated and exhausted. Neither sleeps well.

Accumulated stress from juggling their relationship, two young children and the significant pressures of their personal and work lives has built up and is taking a toll. Too many evenings are beginning to look like this one.

Here are four ideas that have been helpful to couples like Victor and Ellen.

1. Dates

I have often suggested that parents set aside time to date regularly. If things at home are particularly tense or it has been a long time between dates I suggest that the couple focus on enjoying each other’s company with little if any mention of children or family stress. As budgets are often limited for families it can be important to find something to do that is inexpensive. It is also helpful to be in an enjoyable place where there is an opportunity to talk. One couple I knew decided to go out for breakfast a morning each week after dropping their children off at school. In another family the parents decided to make it a point to meet for lunch once a week. Another found a neighbor who could watch their children on Sunday mornings while they went for a walk and sat in the park. A different pair hired a sitter and found a series of inexpensive outdoor concerts that they could attend. As they often spent time with other adults they decided to go to the concerts without their friends. One more couple had loved hiking before they had children and found trails not far from their house to visit two times a month.

2. Picking a good time to “argue.”

Couples I have worked with have agreed that a well-timed “argument” often produces better results. They would try not to talk about difficult things late at night or when the children were around and would wait to sort things through on the phone during the day, on their regular dates or in e-mail if needed. They also avoided “arguing” when one person was tired or hungry.

3. Picking Your Battles

Some couples thought that when talking about a challenging topic that it was important to try and choose one thing at a time to go over. They assumed that if one issue could be resolved that it might help everyone feel less overwhelmed.

4. One good way to talk

Moms and Dads I know also agreed to try not to interrupt the other person when they were talking.

Of course in the middle of everything parents juggle holding to all of these agreements is often unrealistic. Nevertheless coming up with a tentative set of guidelines is often helpful.

Setting up regular dates to have fun probably makes the most difference. Once parents remember the things that they like about each other it is usually much easier to talk and sort through the hundreds of things that they confront together everyday.