Here are some things you can do to reduce or eliminate parenting conflict with a controlling spouse
Taking the direct approach with a controlling spouse is like going head to head with a mountain goat. A controlling spouse will not back down, will not be reasonable, and will not admit you are right–no matter how much evidence you bring to the table. A controlling spouse cares more about winning than he or she does about your child, you, or your relationship–at least in the heat of battle. If you are going to parent effectively and cooperatively with a controlling spouse, you need a general strategy for dealing with him or her. You are also going to do all of your talking with your spouse when things are calm and never in the heat of an argument. If you are able to be strong enough to do that, it will make your relationship better, including cooperative parenting, and it will create a better environment for your children.
How would you handle this?
Judy is my client. She is the mom of a 16 year old girl. Her relationship with her husband has become strained and the behavior of her teen is fueling the parenting conflict. Because of her husband’s controlling behavior, Judy alternately tries to get her husband to back off on the parenting while also trying to get her daughter to be more cooperative. Judy feels trapped in the middle of her husband and daughter and worn thin. She is more and more getting the cold shoulder from her husband, who resists Judy’s ideas about how to manage their daughter. Judy is as risk of further pushing her husband away in her attempts to protect and help her daughter. If she could get her husband to work with her rather than against her, she believes it would greatly improve her family situation. She is starting to feel like she either has to side with her daughter or her husband, but fearing that she will lose her relationship with whichever one she sides against. She is stressed and quickly becoming burned out.
Because Judy’s husband is not the kind of man to go to counseling, Judy is using coaching to learn how to improve her relationship with her husband, without his participation. Judy’s goals for coaching are to emotionally re-attract her husband, which will increase his desire to cooperate with her and to spend time with her. When we achieve this, her husband will be more cooperative with her parenting approach and they can work as a team to help their daughter. The end result will be not only less parenting conflict, but a better relationship between the parents and between the parents and their child. This could not be accomplished by Judy repeatedly arguing with her husband. The way to avoid parenting conflicts often has to do with improving the relationship before addressing the parenting issues.
The marriage coaching work
In individual coaching, Judy learned to change the focus in her communication with her husband. She used to immediately argue with him and try to convince him that he was wrong. That only got her resistance and distance, as arguing always does. Now, she finds the point of agreement between his ideas and hers, and minimizes any differences. She has also become less of a helper to her husband and more of a girlfriend. This change has put intimacy and closeness back into her relationship with her husband. The final change she made is to use good boundaries with her husband’s controlling behavior rather than to argue.
A new experience for everyone
After Judy had some success building her relationship with her husband, their daughter put their relationship to the test. One night their daughter was supposed to be home by 11:00 pm, but did not come home until 6:00 a.m. the next morning. The reason she said was because she lost her watch and didn’t realize how late it was until the sun was coming up. My client did a good job of biting her tongue and telling her daughter that she and her father would deal with this situation later. Judy was able to talk to her husband about this away from their daughter. She did a good job of empathizing with his anger. When her husband said he would send her to a detention center, rather than argue, Judy agreed that this was very serious and so something serious needed to be done. Because of her strategy, she was able to suggest to her husband that they take a 3 step approach, with the last step being sending their daughter to a detention center, if that was what was needed. The first two steps would be talking with their daughter and a counselor together, creating reasonable consequences, and then using a detention center as a backup if the behavior did not improve. Then, Judy and her husband were able to hug and feel like a team again.
The importance of having strategies
In her talk with her husband, Judy reminded herself not to argue, to find points of agreement, and to come up with a few steps, one of which could be her husband’s idea. The problem wasn’t that her husband was totally wrong in his ideas, just that he tended to jump to the most extreme idea first. In letting his idea be part of the solution, she could create enough connection to help them get along and be on the same team regarding their daughter’s behavior.
The coaching approach
If Judy and her husband had gone to counseling rather than Judy getting coaching on her own, things may not have turned out so well. There is a good chance that her husband would have felt ganged up on in therapy, which often happens with the controlling person. By using skills to improve her relationship without needing to directly change her husband, the marriage improved in a non-confrontational way.
Parenting conflict is an opportunity
Every conflict, every difficulty, you have in your relationship is an opportunity to apply marriage building skills. I am always eager to hear about my client’s problem areas because I know that if we can change just that area, we can make a big improvement to their relationship. Specific skills, applied to specific areas, means maximum improvement with minimal invested time. If you were able to eliminate the most troubling area of your relationship, what difference would it make for your relationship? For many, it would mean the difference between enjoying their relationship and eventually losing it.