From Parenting 24/7: University of Illinois Extension


Content Couples are Positive Parents

Posted Oct 24, 2006, updated Dec 08, 2008.

Content Couples are Positive Parents

Content Couples are Positive Parents

Children today live in many different kinds of families, and most grow up without major problems. Not all parents are married or part of a couple, but this article focuses on parents who are raising their children as a couple. Most of the research on this topic has been with married and previously married couples, but the results might also apply to other kinds of committed relationships. Studies show that children thrive when there is less conflict between parents, and that a good couple relationship can be a great source of emotional stability and good physical health for children. Benefits to children include:

  • Better school performance, lower truancy and dropout rates
  • Better relationship skills
  • Fewer emotional and behavioral problems
  • Lower rates of substance abuse, criminal activity and delinquent behaviors
  • Fewer sleep and health problems
  • Lower rates of teen births

Adults in healthy relationships also benefit from better physical and mental health, greater wealth and satisfying intimate relationships. How can adults create and maintain healthy relationships?

Relationship Maintenance

Ups and Downs Are Normal. Relationships vary over time. Sometimes things are great and other times a relationship might need a tune-up to keep running smoothly. Becoming parents and raising children are often stressful for couples. Many couples find their conversations decline and conflicts increase when children arrive. It can be helpful to know that changes are normal and don’t necessarily mean your relationship is in trouble.

Effort pays off. The tools for a healthy relationship can be learned. When couples are interested and motivated they can make their relationship better. It’s a bonus that building your skills can benefit your couple relationship and also help your children thrive.

4-C’s for Content Couples

Although there are many ingredients in a happy relationship, four are especially important: commitment, contentment, communication and conflict resolution. Here are information and tools to strengthen the four C’s in your relationship.

1. Commitment—Ties That Bind
A strong relationship includes a commitment to the children in the family, as well as to the couple. There is a sense of “we” instead of “me.” Committed couples feel like “we are in this together, and I can count on you.” When couples plan to be together for a lifetime, they are more likely to take care of the other person and the relationship.

  • Develop Rituals or Traditions. Doing things over and over again in the same way starts a tradition. These build a feeling of closeness and belonging. It doesn’t have to be a major event, but you will know “This is how we do things.” Ideas include goodbye and welcome back hugs and kisses, sharing a cup of coffee on Saturday mornings, or writing down and talking about the special things that have happened each year on your anniversary.
  • Keep a Long Term View. Remember when you first got together. What attracted you? Think about how you felt? Talk about your plans for the future. What fun things do you want to do together when you are retired?

2. Contentment—It Feels Good
When asked what they want most from their relationship, many people answer “a best friend,” or a “safe haven”. People want partners who will listen, give comfort and emotional support, and lend a helping hand with all the chores and responsibilities.

  • Show your appreciation. Think about the things you appreciate about your spouse and tell him or her. Start your conversation with: “I really feel loved when you…You really helped me get through…One thing about you that makes me proud is…”
  • Have fun together. It may be true that the couple that plays together, stays together. Pick activities that are fun for both of you—so the time is really positive for each of you.

3. Communication—Let’s Talk
Make the time to talk. Not just about who is paying the electric bill or picking up the kids after school—but discuss something you care about, your dreams, joys, or frustrations. It’s not the sheer amount of communication that is important, but the quality or nature of the communication. Positive communication is respectful and involves compromise and humor.

  • Don’t give advice, just listen. Listen without trying to solve the problem. Look at him or her and respond so your partner knows you have heard what’s been said.
  • Respect his or her opinion, even if you disagree. Listen with the intention of understanding their viewpoint without blame.

4. Conflict Resolution—Acceptance
People disagree and face problems. According to John Gottman, a leader in marriage research, most conflicts between couples never get resolved. Conflicts generally occur because of basic personality or lifestyle differences between the couple so they are unsolvable. He suggests learning to cope with many problems by talking about them, and accepting your partner’s faults and limitations. That will free you to work on problems that have solutions.

Arguments don’t have to drive couples apart—it’s how you argue that makes a difference.

  • Have a time-out rule. Stop fights before the conflicts escalate out of control. When one partner does not want to continue the discussion say, “Time out.” Knowing this option is available will keep you from feeling trapped.
  • Set another time to continue the discussion so the issue isn’t left hanging indefinitely. It gives you a cooling off time before things get too hot, then you can come back and resume the conversation calmly. Don’t completely avoid dealing with a tough problem before it gets out of hand.

Healthy couple relationships require work but are a worthwhile investment for children and for adults.

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