What To Do When You Disagree About Parenting

4 Ways to Handle Parenting Disagreements - #staymarried - Photo credit: Stacy Jacobsen at http://www.stacyjacobsen.comAt last count, the internet has provided us with roughly eight million different parenting styles. You’ve probably noticed different parenting styles even among your own friends. Is it any wonder, with so many opinions and philosophies, that two people who share a home and children might also disagree on the best parenting approach?

Marriage is tricky enough without kids. As soon as you add little people to your family, the trickiness is off the charts. Now, not only are you figuring out how best to communicate with your partner and enjoy life, you also have to work together to raise these tiny utterly dependant humans! A lot of couples, including Tony and I, are unaware of the kinds of parents they will be until after the children have arrived. I always thought I’d be the strict enforcer and Tony would be the fun one. It turns out I’m the snuggler, Tony is the fun one, and we BOTH have to be the enforcers when it comes to discipline and handling behavior. Only, we don’t always agree on how to handle the kids.

What I want to share with you is less about the best way to parent and more about how your parenting affects your marriage. Let’s talk about the two of you! Because, above all, the way you treat each other and communicate about parenting can either have a positive or a negative effect on your relationship with each other. It’s your relationship with each other, not the way you parent, that will have the most profound effect on your children’s lives. These are the things Tony and I keep in mind when we disagree about parenting.

4 Ways to Handle Parenting Disagreements

1. Let your partner parent.

One of the hardest things to do when you disagree about parenting is to step back and let your partner BE a parent. But, unless something terribly unsafe or abusive is happening, that is exactly what we need to do. Think back to your own childhood. Did your mom and dad handle every situation in the exact same way? Probably not. And, look at you now, handling life EVEN THOUGH your parents parented differently.

4 Ways to Handle Parenting Disagreements - #staymarried - Photo credit: Stacy Jacobsen at http://www.stacyjacobsen.comWhen our oldest was just a toddling two and a half year old, Tony brought home some small firecrackers from a little pop-up stand around the corner from our house. Fourth of July was coming up and, since he’s the fun parent, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when he showed me his loot. Of course I piped up just a little, “Honey, I don’t think this is a good idea. Claire is two. This really doesn’t seem safe.”

How did he respond? “Babe! It’s fine. I’ve got this.”

So, I was inside the house tending to our infant while Tony went out to the driveway to light off these little firecrackers. I could see a little bit from the front window, but I was really trying not to hover. I snuggled the baby and reminded myself, He’s a good dad. He’s a good dad. He’s a good dad. They’re fine.

The next thing I knew, the front door flung open and in came Tony carrying a screaming little Claire. My heart sank! She’d gotten too close and got a tiny burn on her hand. He rushed her to the bathroom. I grabbed an ice pack and followed him in where he was washing her hand and applying some cooling gel. He was handling it. She was fine. I nearly passed out from the stress, but I kept the I-told-ya-so’s to myself.

Letting your partner parent is not easy but it is vital. Practicing stepping back is about seeing parenting as a long game and not about just this one particular instance in which you would be doing things in a different way… the right way. The truth is that we need to see our differences in parenting simply as differences and not as wrong ways and right ways.

In the long game, the two of you need to be a team in all aspects of your marriage, and that includes parenting. Undermining your partner by stepping in and interrupting a parenting moment is not only disrespectful, it also communicates distrust. Nobody performs at their best when they feel that they aren’t trusted and will be undermined for their efforts anyway. So, if something is happening in a way that you don’t necessarily agree with, take a step back. Pause. Remind yourself that it’s better for the kids and for your relationship to let the situation play itself out. And if your husband burns your baby’s hand, that too will be a situation that you can handle together, hopefully without passing out.

[ctt_author author=”5873″ name=”Michelle Peterson” template=”1″ link=”_ba68″ via=”yes” ]We need to see differences in parenting simply as differences, not as wrong ways and right ways.[/ctt_author]

2. Practice the “Same Team Mentality” in front of the kids.

Smart parents know that kids will do what it takes to get their way. Pitting one parent against the other is a classic move. Kids don’t even need to be taught! They come out of the womb knowing that mom responds differently to a sweet snuggle and a smile before they ask for what they want than dad will. They know which is more likely to sneak some chocolate into their lunch (DAD!) and which is more likely to read one more little book even though it’s 20 minutes past bedtime (MOMMY!). Nobody told them. They just know.

Look, I may not like the extra sugar in her lunch and Tony may not like that bedtime should have been over by now, but in front of the kids we are on the same team. If dad says no, mom says no. So, in order to have the upper hand with these tiny master manipulators we’ve developed a new response…

“Have you already asked Daddy about that? What did Daddy say?” (and vice versa)

With the same team method, whichever parent gave the first response to the request is the parent that leads that situation. Sometimes the kids forget that their main objective is to divide and conquer, so they’ll ask one parent in front of the other. When that happens, we openly discuss in front of the kids what we each think about it and come to an agreement together.

“I really don’t like Claire to have chocolate at school.” – Mom, obviously

“I like the idea that she’s got a little treat with her lunch.” – Dad, the fun guy

“Sure, I get that. Let’s just not make it a daily lunch habit.”

“Great. Maybe once a week or so, she’ll get an extra little treat. Claire, what do you think?”

Not only does this method save a ton of arguments between the two of you, it’s a fantastic chance to model what teamwork looks like for your kids. They can see that we disagree and that we’re willing to talk it out and work toward a solution together.

3. Talk about differences away from the kids.

4 Ways to Handle Parenting Disagreements - #staymarried - Photo credit: Stacy Jacobsen at http://www.stacyjacobsen.comIf you’re letting your partner be a parent, and practicing the same team mentality in front of the kids, you may still find yourself frustrated over something your partner has done. The best thing to do is to wait until the kids aren’t around to bring it up. Then, when you bring it up, don’t forget all of the problem solving skills you already know:

Start kindly and respectfully.
♥ Name what specifically happened.
♥ Name how you feel about it.
♥ Present what you think would have been a better method.
♥ Remain open to their perspective.
♥ Remind yourselves that you’re on the same team.

It could look something like this…

“I love that you want to do fun things and make fun memories with our kids. But, when you took Claire out there to light fireworks, I felt scared and frustrated. I was afraid something bad would happen, and I was frustrated that it seemed like you ignored me when I mentioned it. I wish you would have listened to me, or that we could have waited until I didn’t have my hands full with the baby so I could be out there to keep Claire away from the flames while you lit things on fire.”

4. Get a third-party perspective.

So far, we’re just talking about parenting instances. But, if you feel like you are having disagreements about parenting overall and not just in one situation or another, it’s time to bring in some perspective. All of those eight million different parenting styles come with eight million different websites, books, and seminars. One of the best ways to stay on the same team is to grab one of these resources, read it (or watch it or listen to it) together, and then discuss how you each feel about it.

Having an article to consider together is a great buffer because it takes the discussion out of the “me vs. you” state and puts you in an “us + new information” state. Instead of feeling attacked and criticized for the way you do things, now you can explore someone else’s thoughts and methods on parenting and make some decisions together. It’s not about your way vs. my way. Instead it’s about discovering our way.

Just remember, if this is the method you choose, you’ll still want to introduce it in a way that is kind and respectful and doesn’t make your spouse feel accused of doing something wrong.

4 Ways to Handle Parenting Disagreements - #staymarried - Photo credit: Stacy Jacobsen at http://www.stacyjacobsen.comWhat I mean is… and I’ve said this on our Facebook page before… do not simply tag your spouse on an article you want them to read or send them a forward without any explanation. When you don’t include a comment to give context as to WHY you are tagging your partner or sending them an article, they could easily feel accused of having done something wrong. So, if you’re going to share something for your partner to read or listen to so that you can discuss it later, be thoughtful in how you share it with them.

Here are some quick options…

“Hey babe, let’s read this and talk about it later…”

“This article made me grateful for the way we do things in our marriage. I thought you might like it.”

“This article has some great ideas. I’d love to know what you think.”

Marriage and parenting really are a ton of work, as are most worthwhile endeavors. At the end of the day, whether you do everything exactly the same or not, the most important thing is to honor and respect each other and work out your solutions as a team. Stepping in, undermining, and rudely disagreeing with your partner in front of your kids can be really damaging to your kids and also to your own relationship. Be patient with each other, practice the same team mentality, present a united front with the kids, and #staymarried.

Special thanks to the Coleman family for letting us use their beautiful family photos to illustrate this post.
Photo credit: Stacy Jacobsen whose work can be found at http://www.stacyjacobsen.com

Now, for those parenting resources I promised you…

Brain Rules for Baby by Dr. John Medina and Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow are the two books I recommend most often. They both thoroughly changed the way I parent, giving me insight based on scientific research, and practical steps I could take right away. If I’ve been to your baby shower in the last 4 years, chances are I gave you one or both of these books. I love them!

I can’t even believe I waited until the end of this post to tell you that, for all of our email subscribers, I get to GIVE THESE BOOKS TO YOU! Both books! In audio book format, because who has time to read! Ordinarily that would be a $40 value, but the people at Libro.fm have generously offered #staymarried Subscribers FREE downloads of both!

#staymarried and Libro.fm Parenting Audio Book Giveaway

Enter your name and email address to receive both of these parenting resources, a $40 value, as our gift to you!

You'll also stay up to date with the latest from #staymarried, speaking events, meetups, and more giveaways!

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The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.

Tony and Michelle Peterson #staymarriedIf you’re NEW HERE, check out our About Page and read a little more about my own background on our first post.

Thank you for reading, sharing, and being a part of this #staymarried community!

~ Michelle

Cleaning Up Is Not My Destiny – How Your Marriage Benefits When You Share the Load

How Your Marriage Benefits When You Share the Load - #staymarriedClaire, our oldest, had only been in Kindergarten for two weeks when she sat on the floor of our living room picking up her toys and through gritted teeth she said to me, “Mom, you know what? Cleaning up is NOT my destiny.”

What I wanted to do was pull out my white handkerchief and wave it at her shouting “Preach, Girl! Ain’t that the truth!”

But, I’m the mom, so I sat on the floor with her and told her she was right, but that cleaning up still needed to be done and I would help her.

Every year The Gates Foundation writes their Annual Letter addressing the issues around the world that the foundation will focus on. This year’s letter caught my attention in a really personal way. One of the issues they addressed is the global inequity between genders of who performs unpaid work. In Chapter 3 of The Annual Letter, Melinda Gates writes:

“Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility. Continue reading “Cleaning Up Is Not My Destiny – How Your Marriage Benefits When You Share the Load”

3 Questions to Set Up Your Marriage for a Great New Year

3 Questions to Set Up Your Marriage for a Great New Year - #staymarried, photo copyright Jake GravbrotThe turning of the clock, the arrival of a new calendar year, always brings with it a little bit more perspective, doesn’t it? We may ask ourselves… Did we make the most of last year? Was it a hard year or a good year? Maybe both? Is there anything we can do to make this coming year better?

We know that a lot of people make resolutions and a lot of people fail at them. We do think it’s possible to make some great resolutions for your marriage – and keep thembut resolutions are just one way to get your new year off to a great start. Another way is to have one good 30 minute conversation with your spouse.

Most of the time when resolutions are made, they are made individually. We want you to enter this year the way we hope you enter every other area of your life: as a team. Here are just three questions we think will help you get your marriage off to a good start this new year…

3 Questions to Set Up Your Marriage for a Great New Year

Continue reading “3 Questions to Set Up Your Marriage for a Great New Year”

The Four Types of Supportive Behavior and How to Identify the One You Need

Four Types of Supportive Behavior and how to Identify the One You Need - #staymarriedTime to confess. I’ve been sitting on a secret. I have a little dream that feels really big and I have been reluctant to say it out loud.

I think I want to write a book.

Oh, isn’t that just the kind of timid thing a dreamer would say when she is terrified of her dream? Why do I say, “I think” when the truth is I DO want to write a book? I NEED to write a book, and I’ve known it for nearly a year.

Sharing My Dream

When I first shared my dream with Tony he said, “OF COURSE you are going to write a book!” and then he went on to remind me that it was something he had mentioned years ago and I had dismissed it immediately. It was not an “I told you so” moment. It was a way for us to reflect and for me to believe that he really truly believes in me and he always has. He believes in me more than I believe in myself. He is the gasoline to my engine, constantly filling me when I think I’m empty and have nowhere left to go. He is supportive beyond measure. Continue reading “The Four Types of Supportive Behavior and How to Identify the One You Need”

Your Marriage Needs a Vacation

We are not very good at vacations.

4 Reasons Your Marriage Needs A Vacation - a #staymarried blogI must have known we wouldn’t be very good at them before we got married. While Tony was open to starting a family right away, I was the one who put the brakes on the baby-making. I did want to have a family with him, but I also wanted to enjoy my time with my husband before we began trying for kids.

Some people set a timeline – three years… once we graduate college… once we have a certain amount of money in savings… after one of us gets a full-time job… Instead of a timeline, I had a little goal in mind. I wanted to have vacations alone with my husband. Oh, but not just any vacations… I specified that I would like two airplane vacations alone with my husband before we started trying to have children. Did you catch that? Not road trips, not “stay-cations” where we both just take time off of work. I wanted to travel. I wanted leisure time with my love. I was sure that once we had kids, our ability to travel would be much more limited. Continue reading “Your Marriage Needs a Vacation”

Live Your Love

Tony and I have only been married for six years, but believe it or not, we have worked together for four different employers in addition to most recently starting our own freelance design company together. As I began to focus more of my attention on #staymarried, I quit my role as Project Manager for our business. When I say “quit,” what I mean is, I told my husband I didn’t want to do it anymore, and he still reminds me that he liked things better when I managed him instead of having to manage himself.

Over the years and in our different roles, we have always loved working together. He is my favorite person to listen to in a meeting. I love his candid and encouraging feedback on my work as well. He is crazy talented and hard-working, and I love knowing him in that capacity. It makes me even more proud to be his wife, and I always want him to be proud to be my husband, whether we are in a professional setting or among friends.

We realize that a couple working together and enjoying it is not necessarily common. Many people have told us, regardless of who we were working for together, that they just couldn’t do something like that with their spouse. We’ve heard people say that it was necessary for the health of their marriage that they keep work and home life separate. So, when we heard about Jasmine and Jeremy and their vision for their company Live Your Love, we wanted to know more about them.

Jasmine & Jeremy Dean

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1. Tell us how you met and got married.

{Jasmine} Jeremy and I met while doing relief work in a small village on the eastern side of Sri Lanka about 2 months after the December 2004 tsunami.

{Jeremy} We were both there volunteering. Jasmine went with a friend and got connected with the YMCA. My parents live in Sri Lanka and they put me in touch with a relief and development organization.  Jasmine ended up at a YMCA in a small town on the east coast of Sri Lanka called Kallar- which happened to be the town where I was managing a temporary shelter project. I’d see her every day, but because there was so much work to be done and things were so hectic, I never had a chance to speak with her. One day, after a couple of weeks seeing each other around the town, her and a few other volunteers came to work on a project with me. As soon as we started talking, we hit it off. The next two weeks we spent a lot of time getting to know each other, and I was definitely interested in being more than friends.

{Jasmine} One of my favorite things about my last days in Sri Lanka was that Jeremy told me he “had to be” in Colombo the very same weekend as me, and since he was already going to be there, maybe he would get in touch and we could see each other before I flew out. He did end up in Colombo, and we spent the weekend flying kites on the beach, going to dinner with some friends, and having lunch and pineapple juice on the water. It was our first “date,” and it was in a foreign world to us. Only later, much later, did I find out that not only did he not “have to be” in Colombo that weekend, but he actually had to re-arrange a bunch of things so that he could be there to see me off. Sometimes I forget how incredibly special and romantic our meeting was until we retell it, which is a lot as of late. I am reminded of how valuable it really is.

Sri Lanka Goodbye

{Jeremy} Jasmine flew back to the states, and I spent the next six months building shelters. During that time, there was a lot of emailing, and our friendship and interest in each other grew. Finally, in the summer of 2005, I flew back to the states and met up with Jasmine. It was definitely awkward at first. Seven months in Sri Lanka eating only rice and curry made me lose about 20lbs, and not long after I arrived back, I picked up walking pneumonia. I looked worse for wear, and I hadn’t anticipated the culture shock hitting me as hard as it did. The first few months we spent getting to know each other (again) were not easy, but the time we had spent together in Sri Lanka and the emails we sent had sparked enough interest for us to persist and soon we were dating. After about 15 months of dating, I asked Jasmine to be my wife, and we were married on May 19, 2007.

 2. What did you do, professionally or otherwise, before you got into the tea business?

Before we started the tea business, we both had pretty ordinary jobs. Jasmine was managing an office and I was working in sales. We did that for a year while we adjusted to married life. It didn’t take us long to realize that we aren’t 9-5 people.

3. How did you decide to begin Live Your Love? Who’s idea was it? Was there a “eureka moment”?

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{Jeremy} A year into our marriage, we started discussing the idea of going back to Sri Lanka. We had no idea what we would do there, but as we talked and dreamed, we both recognized a desire to help Sri Lanka’s poor. Because my parents lived in Sri Lanka, we knew there was an opportunity for both of us to teach English. We decided we would go for six months, teach English, and explore opportunities to empower the poor. The next step was raising support. We went on the road for about six months, meeting with old friends and making new ones, sharing our story and desire to help Sri Lanka’s poor along the way.

For me, this is when the initial idea of Live Your Love started. Although I enjoyed meeting with old and new friends, I did not like asking people to support us financially, and so I started thinking of ways that we could become self-sustaining. As we prepared to move back to Sri Lanka, we were doing a lot of research, and we started looking into what Sri Lanka’s largest industries were. Initially, we thought we would do something with clothing, because that’s their largest industry, but once we were there, it became pretty clear that tea was the way to go.

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{Jasmine} We spent time volunteering at Smile Lanka, where we got to know the children, widows, and families that are a part of this amazing program. We decided that if we sold tea, we could give a percentage of the profits back to this school and really support an amazing, life-giving program. So was birthed Live Your Love and Live Your Love Tea.

4. Who does what in your business? Where do your skills and talents crossover?

{Jasmine} Jeremy did most of the work for the formation of the business: paperwork, filing, shipping and receiving of the tea, etc. Jeremy is the big dreamer and can see visions/goals for Live Your Love that are bigger than I can even grasp. I am a very detailed, logistical person so I am able to see our current needs and create more of the short term goals. I have always been more of the networker and the day-to-day, go-to person.

{Jeremy} Right now, Jasmine does pretty much everything for Live Your Love. I work another job to help supplement our income, so for the time being, she oversees the day-to-day of Live your Love. Jasmine is amazing at making friends and connecting with people, so she does most of the marketing. She also has a great eye for design, so she’s the one who makes the brand look good. I’m more of a problem solver, so I contribute by figuring out how to get things done like importing tea into the U.S and applying for licenses, etc.

5. Have you ever had an argument about business? What was it about? How did/do you get through it?

{Jasmine} HA! That’s a funny question. Not funny haha, but funny because it’s so real.

Working as business partners has always been a challenge for us. As we’ve grown in our marriage and our communication, this has obviously gotten a bit better, but in the end I think it is our greatest challenge. We are so different, and we think so differently. If you look at it on paper, we are almost perfect puzzle pieces, fitting precisely together, to make a whole business, but we don’t live on paper and so that means our ideas, our goals, and even the speed to get to those goals are all different.

{Jeremy} When we first started Live Your Love, there was a lot we didn’t know about running a business, and for while, we felt like we were in over our heads. That brought a lot of stress into our marriage which caused a lot of arguments. With a lot of work and a lot of love, we pulled it together. We took the time to learn how to run a business together, to recognize each other’s strengths, and now we have a lot of fun running Live Your Love. I also get to see how amazingly talented Jasmine is.

{Jasmine} I always joke with him, because I’ve always wanted to go on The Amazing Race; but we are not at our best in high pressure, time sensitive, decision making times, so I told him I’ll have to take one of my sisters instead.

6. What is the best thing about being in business with your spouse?

{Jasmine} One of the best things about doing life and business with Jeremy is that we always get to be together. For a while we were living, building Live Your Love, and working a part time job together. I know a lot of couples that couldn’t do that, but we love being together and knowing about each other’s lives.

{Jeremy} Jasmine is insanely talented at so many things! I love that I get to see her many gifts put to use in a way that fulfills her. It also allows us to travel together.

{Jasmine} As different as we are, both of us come alive when we are learning new cultures, serving other people, and exploring the world. We are super blessed to be doing it together.

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7. Tell us about “StayMarriedSundays.” What does it look like? Has your relationship changed or improved since you started this new tradition? How?

{Jasmine} StayMarriedSunday started a few months ago when a friend of mine liked your page, and I found it through her on Facebook. At about almost the same time, Jeremy and I decided to make a commitment to spend more time “intentionally” investing in our marriage. It’s so crazy that we will “intentionally” go to work for 8.5 hours every day but not spend time “intentionally” working on or building our marriage. We decided to make Sunday mornings our “intentional” time together and not schedule anything else. As I saw all the resources that you guys post weekly, I decided to use a few of the videos in our first weekend. I started referring to it as StayMarriedSunday, and it just stuck. You’ve helped brand a very important part of our marriage

A lot of guys would quit on things like this, things that are not natural for them, but Jeremy has been awesome. I can see growth almost every day in the way we interact with each other and even in the way we fight with each other. It’s really a beautiful thing and incredibly rewarding.

{Jeremy} It has been a lot of fun. I definitely feel like I know Jasmine better, and that allows me to do a better job at loving her.

8. Where are you headed this summer?

A few weeks ago we were given the opportunity to have a free car for a year. The only catch is that we’d have to drive it from New Hampshire to Seattle…. ummmm, let me think: ROAD TRIP? Yes, please!

Jeremy grew up in England and hasn’t seen much of the middle of the United States, so we decided to start in New Hampshire, hit up the mid west, see Mt. Rushmore, and head towards Glacier National Park in Montana. I immediately saw this as an opportunity to spread some Live Your Love across the country while meeting awesome people along the way and helping spread the vision of who we are: we exist to partner with individuals & communities around the world to assist people in overcoming poverty, abuse, hunger, hate, and injustice.

Such a big part of Live Your Love is found and centered on Jeremy and I having a good, strong marriage and so we are so excited to be sharing #staymarried Love across the country, too!

 

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Jasmine and Jeremy would love to meet YOU, #staymarried readers! They hope to meet up with our readers from across the country as they travel across the United States and share some of their awesome tea with you. If you haven’t already liked our Facebook page, head over and do so! Their route will take them through the following sites/cities:

Mystic, CT
  Cleveland, OH 
     Milwaukee, WI
       Mt Rushmore, SD
         Glacier National Park, MT
            Spokane, WA
               Seattle, WA

We’ll be following the Deans as they make their way across the country, and we’ll be giving heads-up for opportunities to meet up with them, get some free tea, and maybe take a fun picture or two! The way this will be done is using the hashtag: #LYLroadtrip. Be sure to follow them on Twitter @Live_Your_Love and like them on Facebook. You can also follow their adventure on Instagram. They’ll be giving a heads-up using that hashtag to let followers know when they’ll be stopping in different places in order to have a semi-impromptu LYL/#staymarried meetup. How fun!

If you recognize their route and/or live near one of their stops, they are asking for any recommendations you might have for “must-visit” restaurants, scenic views, etc. They are especially interested in “local” eats and experiences! If you have a suggestion, go ahead and use the hashtag to give them your recommendation. If they take your word for it, they’ll give you a shout out!

 

If you can’t meet up with the Deans, there are still a few ways to support Live Your Love:

» Visit Live Your Love and buy some tea! Profits benefit the programs of Smile International in Sri Lanka.  
» Suggest to your church, office, or local cafe to carry LYL tea.
» Live Your Love is also seeking to benefit individuals and families affected by the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma. They are selling these awesome “We’re All OK” t-shirts with 100% of the profits going towards victims with specific needs.  

We are delighted to bring you this highlight of a small company that strives to do beautiful work run by a couple that is striving to #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read about Walt and Nancy, Est. 1975. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

All images used with permission of Live Your Love {via} Jasmine & Jeremy Dean.

Same Team

Before we were dating, Tony and I used to meet with some friends at a neighborhood bar called Piper’s Creek. It was the dimly lit sort of pub with a few pool tables, some dart boards, open seating, one bartender, and no waitresses. The outer walls were lined with bookshelves and all sorts of old board games and card games. If it weren’t on the other side of town from where we live now, it would definitely still be on our list of regular spots.

Chess

Back then, though we weren’t dating, we were definitely liking each other. You know, liking in the kind of way that you only say and do interesting things around each other. We sat at one of the open tables and Tony asked if I’d like to play chess. “Sure!” I said enthusiastically, “I’d love to!” Come on, who wouldn’t want to play chess with someone they had a crush on. It’s a game that takes a very long time and only involves two players. Yep, I’d definitely like to play chess with you, handsome Tony Peterson. Thank you for asking. He pulled out the board and started to set up the pieces. “Have you played before?”

“It’s been a very long time.” I watched him set up his pieces and I set mine up in the exact same way. He made his first move, and I thought it was a good one, so I made the exact same move. He made a few more moves, and each time I mirrored exactly what he did.
“You don’t know how to play, do you?”

“Well, I know the horse guy can take a left. I know the pointy guy can go diagonal. Yep, that’s about all I know about chess”. We laughed and he started to teach me, but to this day I have no idea how to play chess, nor do I have any real desire to learn. Tony and I still love playing games together. But, if you’re at a table playing a game with us, you’ll quickly notice that we approach games very differently. I’m the type to play my hand, figure out my strategy at the start of the game, and move along at a relatively slow pace. Tony, on the other hand, always plays his opponents. He’s the card counting, facial expression reading, block your next move just because he can type of player. I play for fun, he plays to win (which he claims is more fun).

As we’ve gotten to know each other better over the years, it’s also clear that we approach just about everything in life differently, not just games. We especially approach each other differently when we’re in a conflict. He’d like to get it out on the table all at once. I’d like to wait until my thoughts are fully formed, as reasonable as possible, and be prepared for any contrary arguments before I broach an issue. Of course, in my mind, this makes me extremely considerate not to lash out at my husband. But, for Tony on the receiving end, this looks like I have shut him out and am stonewalling and keeping secrets. Perception is a tricky thing. He is not wrong, but then again, neither am I. The problem is, when I’m mad, I start thinking about our marriage as if it’s a game of chess. I’m waiting for him to make the right move.

In chess, you’ve got one opponent against another. You’ve each got your own king, the prize you’re protecting against your adversary. You’ve got your strategy, you’re attempting to decipher the strategy being played against you. In chess, you only make your move when you’re absolutely ready and you never make a move out of turn. Sometimes I want to play my frustrations out like a game of chess. I want to hold my anger and resentment close and watch and see if he will figure out what he did wrong. When I’m hurt, I don’t want to work with him on some sort of solution. I want, instead, to protect myself from him. I start thinking of him as an adversary and I start thinking more independently, only pouring myself a cup of coffee in the morning, instead of pouring for both of us. And even as I am playing all of this out in my mind, a conflicting phrase occurs to me over and over again… “Same team… Same team.”

Same Team

I remember a friend of ours describing his fights with his wife to us years ago. He said that when it’s really heated, they have to remind each other, and themselves, that they are on the same team. He said it was especially crucial once they had kids. I never forgot that verbiage and the way he described the feeling that your spouse is your enemy when the reality is that they are your teammate. In a game where you’re on the same team, you need to work together so that your team wins. If you play against your own team, you lose!

Still, it’s really hard in my stubborn and independent nature to want to work together when I’m upset. Tony and I know we approach our conflicts differently, so we’ve developed some language and key phrases to help us work through the muck. For instance, when I have been too quiet for too long, he might say to me, “I’m giving you space. But, I’d like to talk. How are you feeling?” I am almost never ready to talk when he asks, so I might say, “I’m working it out. I’m not sure what to say, but I am definitely bothered.” For us, that’s at least a start. Sometimes I’ll ask for more time, or to get the attention off of myself, I’ll ask in return how he’s feeling. I realize this can seem very formal, but it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. It does feel like drudgery, like tromping through thick mud, but as soon as we decide to talk, as soon as we decide we want to really hear from each other, we move back to being on the same team and out of the place of being opponents on the opposite side of a chess board.

Seek First To Understand

In Stephen R. Covey’s famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about some of this. His Habit 5 is: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Covey writes that most of us have no real training or practice in listening. We spend most of our time learning to communicate our own thoughts, and give very little attention to the skills of understanding those around us. He says that, in most cases, we listen with the intent to reply instead of the intent to understand. There is a big difference here.

In the case of our marriages, this failure to really listen to each other, to really try to understand each other, can often put us at odds with one another. If we do what comes naturally, if we are seeking first to be understood, we are playing the game as opponents. We need to, instead, come up with ways to listen, to seek to understand, so that we can have a Same Team Mindset.

 If YOU win, your TEAM loses.

So, how about you? Are you playing out your arguments as opponents, or are you attempting to be on the same team? Are you seeking first to be understood, or are you seeking to understand? Are you defending and protecting yourself, or are you defending and protecting your teammate and your marriage? This is something I struggle with all the time. Maybe it’s a survivalist mindset. I mentioned before about my struggle with apologizing, and I’m sure it’s because I hate being wrong. But in those moments, I have to make the choice to play as a teammate, suck it up, and apologize.

Once you get married, your role in the story of your life shifts entirely from being the star player to being a member of a team. If you continue to try to “win” – being right in your arguments, getting your way with the social calendar, making independent decisions about spending money – you will cause your team as a whole to lose. Instead, look your teammate in the eye the next time you go head-to-head and remind each other that you are on the SAME TEAM so you can #staymarried!

*Click here for more on “Repair Attempts”

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle