How Your Parenting Today Impacts, Not Just Your Marriage, But Your Kid’s Future Marriage As Well
In a previous post called How To Raise Your Kid To Be A Great Spouse we shared several practical strategies for building a great relationship with your kid so they become a great spouse one day.
This post continues that conversation about how do we do what we can do to ensure we raise exceptional human beings….AND how this has a direct impact on marriage.
We write from our experiences as parents and as professional marriage therapists. We help couples every day who once were little kids seeking for attention and love. We never lose that need for connection and love….it simply transfers to our marriage partner.
If we can learn to meet these needs for our kids we are doing 3 things. 1. We are learning how to meet those needs for our partner, 2. We’re learning about our own needs, and 3. We’re transforming lives for generations upon generations into the future.
Humans have this incredible power to love and make a conscious effort to change. We can heal and we can make little shifts to heal the lives of others if we’re brave enough to try.
We’re in this together! One big human family. Your family and your marriage plays a key roll in how the world thrives or falls apart. If you don’t believe me…look at the education system for example…
When our public lacks an education there aren’t enough skilled workers to keep an economy alive. People go hungry and loose hope. The good news is you don’t have to rely on some government education system.
When you learn these skills you teach your children how seek their own education. You remove obstacles so they can fully thrive and live up to their potential. You’re giving them emotional intelligence. This gift will allow them to never starve for love or intimacy.
The following are 3 strategies for changing your future.
Strategy #1: Lean In To Closeness
It can be so hard to lean into uncomfortable emotions. We have been taught that certain emotions are bad and we should avoid them. But we forget that those emotions are a part of the human experience.
Because we don’t understand these emotions we shut them down in our interactions with others. We get quiet and pull away when our partner expresses uncomfortable emotions. We punish or reprimand our children when they express emotions we’re uncomfortable with.
We are perceived as uncaring and cold when these emotions are present. Whether the emotion is sadness or anger or fear. We don’t understand it so we move away from it and we’re teaching those we care about to do the same.
So what happens when we are not warm and we don’t allow room for feelings? We teach our children to avoid their feelings. They shut down and their attachment style is what we call Avoidant.
An attachment style refers to a child's relationship with and need for the most important people in their life. These relationships set the stage for all future relationship patterns and interactions.
The good news is these styles can change with new and different experiences. But they only change with consistent effort.
The responses we see in our child are the same that we see when our partner shuts down, gets quiet, pulls away, and becomes defensive. The way we fight against this pattern is to lean into closeness.
You want to look for moments when your little person is seeking closeness. Maybe they’re asking to nurse, or wanting to sit in your lap, asking you to read, or just smiling at you from across the room.
Sometimes they throw a fit or protest. They might even get angry and push you away. This sometimes is a test to see if you will, in fact, be pushed away….maybe your love is conditional, they wonder.
Stand strong dear friends. Keep pressing forward. This is when your child needs you to seek closeness even more. When we miss those moments….and research shows we miss about 75% of all bids for closeness by our children….we miss a golden opportunity to learn about them, strengthen our bond, and love them better.
So be on the look out for your child’s bids for closeness and then draw close and see what happens. Sometimes they need a hug, sometimes it’s a smile, or a word of encouragement, sometimes they just need to hear how proud you feel about them.
Maybe they need you to take an interest in an activity they like. The earlier you start the easier it will be when they’re knee deep in the teenage years.
If you struggle with this because you’ve never experienced it before then let us help you learn this in couples therapy. That’s a huge part of what we do.
Strategy #2: Be A Safe Place
Our son Luke was born with bilateral clubbed feet and Brad and I took him to the doctor a lot early on. One day we were in the waiting room and we noticed a mom and dad with their little five year old daughter.
It was a big waiting room and the parents were on different sides reading magazines and looking at their phones. While the little girl was looking at the fish tank she fell to the ground. She started crying like she had really hurt herself and both of her parents immediately said…"Stop crying, you’re fine.”
They were slightly annoyed by her crying but she needed to be comforted. They seemed inconvenienced by her need to be comforted and soothed.
I’ll never forget what happened next. They said in a very frustrated irritated tone, “Unless your arm is cut off and bleeding stop your crying.” They both said it multiple times while barely looking up from their smart phones.
What message does that send to the little girl about what to do in the future when she’s getting picked on at school? Or when she’s in a relationship and is unhappy, how do you think she’ll try to resolve her frustrations with her mate?
Given enough time she won’t try to resolve the issues with her partner. She’ll hold it in until resentment grows and she’ll later find justification for cheating. That’s what we see happen time and again in our marriage counseling offices.
So the lesson we learn is: “I can’t go to my safe person with my feelings and needs.” Do the parents of avoiders love their children? Of course they do, but they aren’t raising their child to succeed in close intimate relationships.
When consistent indifference, reaction, and anger happen on the part of a parent towards a child’s emotional needs the child learns they are going to get punished if they become vulnerable with their parent.
It may not be the message the parent is trying to send to their child, but it is the message the child begins to construct from repeated interactions where the parent follows the same script of coolness, reaction, anger, and inattention towards the child’s feelings and needs.
What Does This Look Like In Their Relationships?
So what happens when they enter into a relationship? They believe they can't go to their partner or they’ll be punished for it. Sometimes they choose partners who will actually punish them.
So instead they hide. They hide their feelings, emotions and needs. And it results in them being a conflict avoider. They hold it in and then they resent their spouse, or their girlfriend, or boyfriend because they're not sharing their real feelings and needs.
They magically assume you should know and they're resenting the crap out of you. Then they are really unhappy in the relationship because they don't ever give themselves to someone completely and actually learn to be assertive.
They end up being passive or aggressive. As this resentment and unhappiness towards their spouse grows this is where they're really susceptible to someone flirting with them.
Or susceptible to their own temptations to act out and have an affair when the opportunity arises. And many times they feel justified because they’ve also fallen into self-deception.
The Mental Model That Develops
Here's the thing, few people can think back and say, "You know when I was five I couldn't be open." But they subconsciously, over time, develop a “mental model” that becomes their blueprint for future relationships.
So when the resentment develops, they aren’t feeling close emotionally, and the opportunity is there for being unfaithful.
Nobody's ever going to say when they cheated, “it was because of that time in the doctor's office when I was five, when my parents yelled and me and told me to stop crying unless my arms were cut off”.
The girl's not going to remember that because there's going to be a crap load of other examples that she'll have. But it’s the pattern that develops.
That consistent message of “You can’t approach me”, and what develops is this mental model of how relationships work. At that young of an age when that model is developed you have no idea if this is healthy or unhealthy. All you know about how relationships work is what you see in your family.
You're five years old, you may just be getting to start kindergarten, you may not even be in kindergarten yet. There's a whole lot of messages from mom and dad that say, “Don’t come to me with your feelings and needs” and you're not even able to logically say this is dysfunctional.
Sometimes they don't want to create conflict, but they're really trying to get away from "I feel inadequate and I don't want to express that kind of vulnerability because you’ll think I’m weak, and if you think I'm weak, and not strong, you won't like me very much.”
Avoiders value peace because they feel closest to their mate when there's no conflict. Obviously you have to deal with issues in a marriage to really have a good marriage, you can't just brush stuff under the rug, you got to be open and honest.
The average childhood of an avoider is one without much emotional connection and support. They experience going through stressful things alone and as a result learn that they can’t trust others to be there for them. As a result they never share anything with their mate from a vulnerable place.
Strategy #3: Deal With Your Demons
One last point…the best way to be there for your kids is to remove the obstacles. You remove obstacles by dealing with your personal and relationship issues.
When you can heal and make sure your relationship is healthy you’ll have an easier time being available for your children emotionally. The cool thing is you can handle most all of these issues in marriage counseling.
So take care of your issues. That’s when therapy is extremely important and helpful. Don’t waste what should be happy years on old baggage.
We offer weekly therapy and private intensives with just you and your mate over 1 to 3 days. We offer extended sessions and virtual coaching. Call 918-281-6060 to start removing the blocks to your happiness.