The Power of The Respectful Relationship

Written by Kristin Alldredge, LMFT, and published in the February 2014 issue of RAISE, a publication of the DMI Agency

The exasperated father turns to his wife and says, “Joey just said ‘!&?@#%&!’ Where in the *&?@# do you think he learned that #%&!?”

As parents, we have all seen how easily our kids, as young as infants, mimic us in what we say and do. We acquire much of our knowledge just by seeing or hearing others and modeling what we observe. This kind of learning is called vicarious learning or social learning. Children are particularly ripe for this process, especially from someone in a position of authority or admiration, such as a teacher or parent.

Children are great observers and we know that they benefit greatly when they observe and experience a happy home with respectful relationships. As a parent, we do not need to formally teach children all social and relationship skills. Kids are constantly learning vicariously by watching how we talk to our spouses, how we show affection, what language we use and the tone of our voice, and how we resolve differences and support one another.

This can seem like another pressure on parents, but it can be good news to know that as you work on your marital/couple relationship you are, at the same time, actually assisting your children. The quality of your couple partnership is the substance from which our children learn and grow. Researcher John Gottman has shown that our couple friendship is the foundation to building what he calls The Sound Relationship House. The house is built upon the couple’s friendship, their mutual expression of fondness and admiration, and the building of a positive relationship through their turning towards each other. Establishing a perspective that encourages dialog and respectful conflict management is critical to seeing our family and relationship dreams come true.

As a parent, by making the quality of our relationship with our partner a priority, we are modeling to our children much of what we value and want them to learn. Happy and satisfied parents naturally create of the best ways to boost positive feelings and relationships with our children. Our children learn how to get along with differences, show respect with each other, express affection, manage conflict and much more-just by observing us as their model of behavior.

It is a good reminder to:

  • Honor your child’s other parent. Show respect in words and actions. Avoid criticism.
  • Nurture the friendship in your relationship. Smile, give eye contact, and show interest in one another.
  • Express appreciation, admiration, and affection for each other daily.
  • Listen to each other with the intent to understand, rather than debate.
  • Have the “Habit of Mind” to notice and express positives with each other.
  • Remember the reasons you chose each other!

Can you image how rewarding it is to see your children model these behaviors as well? Your children have the potential to learn vicariously by observing your relationship skills in action.

The Power of a Satisfied Relationship

Written by Kristin Alldredge, LMFT, and published in the July 2013 issue of RAISE, a publication of the DMI Agency

Many of us have the notion that the way to ensure that our children do well is to increase or change the quality of our parenting style. It can be a bit overwhelming to see the numerous parenting classes and trainings for couples to learn how to fix their parenting concerns. Sometimes, however, it may be just as important to examine our effectiveness as parents in another way. It may not be our parenting style that needs attention, but rather our couple relationship itself. Our interactions with our partners have great influence on our children’s attitudes and achievements, as well as their ability to get along with others and manage conflict.

Researchers now realize that the couple’s relationship can have the greatest effect on their child’s well being and is the foundation for the child’s development. John Gottman’s extensive research of over 40 years of studying couples indicates this to be true. His research reports that conflict increases by 8 times just in the first year of a child’s life and that 67% of all parents report a significant drop in their relationship satisfaction that first year. The birth of a child can be one of life’s greatest joys, and yet with that comes uncharted territory, changing roles, new sacrifices, and changes in most aspects of our partner relationship. When children live in homes where parents are not satisfied and when tension and conflict exist, children suffer. The research is clear that the stress of relationship dissatisfaction can take its toll not only on your own well being, but that of your children as well. This tension can lead to cognitive difficulties, behavioral problems, depression, anxiety, and increased anger and physical illness in kids.

Parenthood is challenging and creates numerous situations where conflict is inevitable. You are encouraged to discuss issues of importance to you and it’s ok to disagree. It is HOW you fight and discuss the matters that is important. Gottman’s research refers to the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” as the four negative behaviors that are toxic to a relationship. They include Criticism (attack, blame the other), Defensiveness (attack back, deny responsibility), Contempt (superiority, condescending, disrespectful) and Stonewalling (withdraw, no response). When these behaviors are used frequently, a couple is headed for a decline in their relationship satisfaction. These behaviors have also shown to be predictors of divorce.

The “Masters of Relationships” (couples who are happy and stay together), navigate the challenges of parenting together as friends and partners. They start conversations softly, stating what they feel and need without blame.They listen, respond and ask questions of each other. They show love and interest in each other. They have learned to manage their conflicts (yes they have conflict!) with respect, void of criticism or contempt. They make their relationship and intimacy a priority by keeping updated in their partner’s world, expressing fondness and admiration, turning towards each other (not away) for connection, and managing their conflicts with a positive approach. This relationship can then create an atmosphere in the home that encourages each person to talk honestly about their aspirations, hopes, and dreams while feeling supported.

Children usually thrive in these households where the parent relationship is positive and gets its needed attention. When parents demonstrate this successful modeling of a positive relationship, they increase the chances of their children becoming adults with satisfying relationships.

Where the couple’s relationship is happy, and the Four Horsemen are absent, children typically have greater success in school, have less physical illness, and show greater ability for emotional connection. There is a direct causal affect in the strength and satisfaction of your couple relationship and your child’s well being.

Happier relationships = happier children.

Tips to focus on your partner relationship and your child’s well being:

  1. Renew your friendship. Keep updated in each other’s world. Increase your communication, show interest, ask questions, listen to each other.
  2. Build a culture of appreciation. Express affection, appreciation and admiration in words and deeds.
  3. Turn towards each other. Accept each others bids for connection and make repairs as needed. Be positive and point out what is going well.
  4. Maintain a positive perspective. Have the “habit of mind” of scanning for what is going well. Keep criticism out of your relationship.
  5. Manage conflict. Learn effective ways to regulate (not avoid) problems. Listen to understand. Take responsibility for your own behavior.
  6. Support each others dreams. Create an atmosphere that encourages talk of values, hopes, aspirations and shared meaning.