My husband and I were married six years before we had children, and while we are different in many ways (he’s way laid back; I’m driven and detail-oriented), we were able to work through most of that conflict with humor. Now that our son is 2, though, it seems we disagree about everything — from the little things (whether he should eat ice cream for breakfast) to the big things (like making sure he stays on a schedule). I don’t want to spend the rest of our lives fighting — how can we get on the same parenting page?
It’s sometimes shocking for couples to discover that one of the greatest joys in their lives, becoming parents, can also be the prelude to some of the most frustrating, aggravating and irritating disagreements. There were times that we both thought the other had what to me seemed like an obviously irrational opinion on how to raise our sons.
The best starting point is for both of you to purpose in your hearts to pursue excellence in listening.
Most people don’t understand that one of the most important aspects of quality communication is listening. One writer stated that the conversations of most couples are dialogues of the deaf. Ecclesiastes 3:7 states that there is a time to keep silent and Proverbs 10:14 tells us that only a fool ignores that fact. Proverbs 21:11 says that “The wise man learns by listening.”
Studies have shown that most people can listen five times as fast as someone can speak. This means that during a conversation it is easy for our minds to wander. If it’s an important conversation take some notes. Learn to ask questions that clarify the issue. Cultivate the ability to restate the person’s message in your own words.
David Augsburger writes, “Love is listening. Love is the opening of your life to another. Through sincere interest, simple attention, sensitive listening, compassionate understanding and honest sharing . . . an open ear is the only believable sign of an open heart. You learn to understand life–you learn to live–as you learn to listen.”
So often when we disagree we assume that one person is right and other person is wrong and, because we love our spouse, we want to help them see where they are wrong. The bigger issue is not who is right or who is wrong but what is it that my spouse might see that I don’t? What are the assumptions and values behind their opinion? What is it in their background that contributed to their opinion? Are there any fears that might be driving their opinion?
As you seek to listen and make understanding your first concern you may be amazed at the results. These skills will stand you in good stead as parents AND as a couple. Remember, your spouse’s opinions seem as logical, rational and responsible to him as your opinions seem to you.
When trying to solve a problem sometimes the best and easiest solutions come from looking back in your relationship at a time when you didn’t have that problem to see what’s changed. Another helpful step might be to ask yourself, “What were we doing in those first six years that we aren’t doing now?” There were probably fewer interruptions but what else? Did you have more time for small talk? Were you having more couple time? Did you listen better? Were you more likely to take advice?
In our book, Raising Sons and Loving It, we discuss some of the “typical” disagreements parents can have and this might help you avoid some potential land mines down the road. Remember that in God’s hands conflict can become a great opportunity to learn, to grow and to better understand the mind and heart of our spouse.