As a lawyer, couples mediator and self-help author, people turn
to me for my expert relationship advice. They assume that because I
have all the answers, I must have a perfect marriage myself. The
truth is that I have a happy marriage with good days and those
less-than-perfect days that require me to put my own communication
advice into practice.
You see, conflict is normal and expected, especially for
parents, but how we choose to respond to it can either destroy or
build love. For example, there was that time some years ago, when I
had a Chinese food "take-out" awakening:
My husband and I are a great team, but at times (like all
couples) we were no match for the demands of our infant son. Stress
from a little one can wear down anyone's patience and test any
It happened after I had a tiring day of work, and my husband had
his usual high-pressure day of work. The evening arrived and we
fell into our typical routine. Our 11-month-old was on the verge of
walking and he was trying to climb everything in sight. One of us,
therefore, needed to pay very close attention to him at all times
to make sure he was safe. As usual, it was me who ended up being on
surveillance duty. My husband was nearby, but somehow I was the one
"in charge." We had never verbally agreed to this division of
power. It just happened. When I would use the bathroom or make a
phone call, I had a nagging guilty feeling that I had to rush back
to my duties.
On this seemingly uneventful night, we ordered take-out Chinese
food and my husband announced that he would go pick it up. As I was
left stranded at home, again, I became angry. "Darn it, I want to
get out of the house for 20 minutes to get the take-out! I want to
do the errands!" But I didn't say this to my husband because it
felt wrong. After all, he was only trying to be helpful by doing
the errand. And so I slept on it.
By the next morning I was prepared for a difficult conversation.
I couldn't blame my husband for the situation; I had tacitly agreed
to it. And the truth is, how could he know what I wanted if I never
said it? Now was the time to re-negotiate our evening parenting
responsibilities. The de facto parenting split, 95 percent me, 5
percent him, was not acceptable. I took my own advice as a family
mediator and I shared my feelings without blaming him. I told him
that I wasn't asking for him to be in charge all of the time, or
even half of the time. I just needed him to spend a portion of each
night as the truly responsible party, so I could have a chance to
relax or pick up the take-out, knowing our son was well taken care
I'm not kidding when I tell you this: From that day forward,
after our "child care negotiation," my husband stepped up to the
plate. He created fun little games with our son that they play
every night. They have their own sayings and jokes. When our son
needed his diaper changed during the "Daddy play period," my
husband would do it, without yelling for my help. As the days wore
on, the nighttime fun turned into the bedtime routine, which my
husband still does three years later. With a second child in the
mix, Daddy's participation is even more valuable.
My suggestion: don't wait to ask for what you want. Re-balancing
expectations, child care and household chores should be an annual
event, at the very least. I offer simple tips to negotiate with
your spouse in chapter 14 of my book, Fight Less, Love
More, now out in paperback. Use the tips, and your own
wisdom, to speak up with the goal of finding a solution, and you
may find that your entire family is better off, for years to
Relationship advice from best-selling author Laurie Puhn
See more of Laurie's stories here.
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