When family life is good, children thrive. Find out why relationships between parents matter so much to children, and how to improve your relationship with your partner or ex-partner.
Whether you’re together or separated, the way you and your partner communicate can impact on your children. All relationships have tricky moments it’s how they’re experienced and resolved that matters. Of course, disagreements and arguments are completely normal and part of everyday life but if it is becoming a problem then you can get help. Parental conflict is not the same as domestic abuse – if you are afraid of your partner or feeling that they control your life then this is may be domestic abuse, please seek help .
How do relationships change over time?
Long term relationships tend to go through lots of stages and changes. It's different for everyone and your journey will be affected by the changes in your life. The images below display the stages and changes of relationships.
Relationships change over time. What stage are you at? 1. Romance 2. Reality 3. Power struggle 4. Finding yourself 5. Acceptance of each other 6. Mutual love, respect and understanding. What could this mean for your relationship? Flip the card to find out.
Long term relationships tend to go through lots of stages and changes. It's different for everyone and your journey will be affected by the changes in your life.1.Romance. Many relationships start here- everything seems perfect and you want to spend every moment together. 2.Reality. You start to see each other’s flaws. You may find that you want different things from life.3.Power struggles. As you figure out how things are going to work between the two of you, you may have to reach a compromise about important issues like children, money, or housework.4. Finding yourselves. Once you’ve figured out how your relationship works, you may need to focus on yourselves as individuals- your personal hopes and dreams. This can be a difficult stage for many couples.5. Acceptance. When you have learned to respect each other’s needs, you can start to see your differences as strengths.6.Mutual love and respect. You learn to love each other completely- warts and all. You’ve found a way to balance your needs as individual with your roles in the relationship. Throughout your life, you may move up and down through the stages .Big changes like having a baby or losing a job can cause arguments, which may set you back. And you won’t always be at the same stage as each other.
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Conflict in any relationships we have is normal, but if children are experiencing frequent exposure to conflict between their care givers and it is intense and poorly resolved this can have an impact on children. This can result in long term mental health issues, emotional struggles, social and behavioural difficulties as well as not doing so well in school as they develop.
The below image shows how when you know how arguments work,you can keep them under control.
When you know how arguments work,you can keep them under control. The logs.What issues do you argue about most? The Match.What normally starts the argument? The fuel.What makes it worse?Are you fueling the fire? The Water.What helps calm things down?
You can think of arguments like a fire.
The logs are the things you argue about most. Even when you're getting on well, the logs are still there. Some common ones are:
The match can be anything that starts an argument. It's often something small:
- the wrong tone of voice
- feeling stressed
- not listening to each other
Once the argument has started, we can make things worse by the way we respond. This can add fuel to the fire, for example by:
- snapping back
- walking out
- bottling things up
- saying hurtful things
- bringing up old arguments
There are also things we can do to stop the argument getting worse. This is like putting water on the fire, things like:
- taking a break
- saying sorry
- having a hug
The Magic Ratio
Even the happiest couples have negative moments. We snap and criticise. We shout and blame.What would it take to balance these out? Relationship experts tell us that for every one negative moment, you need five positive moments. Find out more about the magic ratio below.
This card shows some common things people do in an argument. I walk off. I give as good as I get.I get louder and throw things.I speak harshly.I misread.I use putdowns.I don't listen. I get sarcastic. I make the other person feel bad.When you can recognise these,you can change the way your arguments play out. Flip the card to find out how
How many positive moments does it take to balance out each negative moment ? Flip the card to find out
Even the happiest couples have negative moments. We snap and criticise. We shout and blame.What would it take to balance these out? Relationship experts tell us that for every one negative moment, you need five positive moments. So, for each time you have one negative moment with your partner : criticising,name calling, shouting,Trying to win,sneering, being defensive,blaming sarcasm,talking over each other. You need to have five positive moments: laughing together, listening , hugs, supporting each other,being grateful, showing interest, sharing,thoughtful gifts, chatting. Now start to practice the magic ratio. Think about your relationship. What positive things could you do for each other? What can you do to show that you care?
Disagreements and communication in relationships : Key things to think about
- Disagreements in relationships happens its natural. The important thing to consider is how are you handling it.
- If you can work through disagreements calmly and positively it strengthens our relationship and is better for your children.
- Through good communication (talking and listening), being respectful, seeing different points of view and taking time out we can sort out differences and disagreements
- It is important to take time out to communicate and keep conflict away from children
The downward spiral. Some types of behaviour can increase the risk of relationship difficulties. Contempt or criticism. Poor communication. Stonewalling. Defensiveness. Lack of closeness. Refusal or avoidance
What poor communication looks like. Criticism :Criticism isn’t the same as complaining. It’s a direct attack on your partner. “You only think about yourself.” Contempt: Contempt is when we are deliberately mean. We might use name- calling, or sarcasm , or roll our eyes to show we are not interested. Defensiveness: Defensiveness is usually a response to criticism. We deflect blame upon the other person. ”I’ve been busy. Why couldn’t you do it? Stonewalling: stonewalling is when we get so overwhelmed that we shut down completely, blanking our partner, or walking out on them. How you can protect against it: Criticism: Try starting a sentence with “I…” and asking for what you need.” I was worried last night. I’d like it if you could text me when you’re going to be late. Contempt: Try to focus on what you love about each other. Look for opportunities to pay each other compliments and do things you both enjoy. Defensiveness: try to see things from each other’s points of view. Take responsibility and say sorry when you are wrong. Stonewalling: Try to be good to yourself. Take some time out to do something relaxing and enjoyable.
Managing and resolving conflict constructively is all about talking and listening in polite and respectful ways. These tips can help you do this:
- Try to rephrase what your partner has said in your own words to check that you understand. For example, ‘It sounds like you’re upset that I’ve been late four times this week and you’ve had to do the evening routine’.
- Try to understand your partner’s feelings or perspective. You don’t have to agree, but you can try to understand where your partner is coming from. For example, you could say ‘You seem frustrated by my comment – is that right?’
- Use ‘I’ statements to explain how you feel, without blaming your partner. For example, ‘I feel invisible when you’re messaging on your phone while we’re having dinner’.
- Avoid generalisations and words like ‘never’ or ’always’. For example, ‘You never help with household chores’ or ‘You’re always watching TV’.
A problem-solving approach can also help you sort out conflict. If you try a problem-solving approach to conflict, it’s important to start by assuming that your partner wants to work things out as much as you do. Then there are a few key steps:
- Focus on just one problem at a time.
- Discuss options and solutions to the problem, then decide which ones are most likely to work.
- Decide on a solution to try, and put it into action. Give it time to work.
When you’re problem-solving with your partner, look for humour in the situation, but avoid laughing at your partner or their ideas.
Things can get heated when you’re trying to resolve conflict. If this happens, it’s important to call ‘time-out’. This gives you time to consider each other’s perspective and control angry feelings. But agree on another time soon to discuss the issue – no more than one or two days after the conflict first comes up.
Harmful arguments can be bad for your relationship. Trying to win.Saying mean things.Name-calling.Blaming.Being negative.Helpful arguments can be good for your relationship. Working together. Considering each other's feelings.Being affectionate. Solving problems.
We all need to have difficult conversations sometimes. The way you start these conversations will affect the way they go. There are 2 ways to start a conversation: 1. A harsh start up: A harsh start up is when you go straight in with a verbal attack. “You never think about me!” The other person is likely to be defensive and you won’t get the support you need. 2. A soft start up: A soft start up is a way of asking for something you want without blaming the other person. “I’m worried about how we are going to get everything done”. This makes it easier for the other person to listen, so you can sort things out together. How to practice a soft start up : Instead of saying: “You never help out! I have to do everything myself!” Try saying; “I’m feeling stressed out. I’d really like some help. It’s the same things, but more likely to get you the help you need. So, before you start a difficult conversation, ask yourself if there’s a better, softer way to start.
When parents separate, children can often feel like they're being put into these different roles. Can you guess what they are?Flip the card to find out more.
A.Spy. Asking your child about the other parent can make them feel like a spy.They might fear they are betraying them, or just say what they think you want to hear.Try instead: Stick to general questions. If youfind yourself asking more specific ones, like about their new partner, ask yourself why you really want to know, and how it might make your child feel.B.Messenger. Asking children to pass messages back and forth puts them in an uncomfortable position. They may worry that whatever they do, it will upset one of their parents. Try instead:if it's not easy to talk to each other, could you ask someone neutral to join a chat group between you both? They might help keep things calm and respectful.C.Counsellor. If you are seeking emotional support from your child, it can put them under pressure to make you feel better.It's not their job to give support. Try instead:If your child sees you upset, you can tell them how you are feeling. But let them know you'll be OK, and they don't need to worry.D.Mediator. It can be extremely upsetting for children to see their parents arguingwith each other.They may feel the need to solve the problem, which is too much responsibility for children. Try instead: Let them know these are problems for adults to solve.Reassure them that you both still love them, even though you are not together anymore.
When parents separate, they sometimes do things that can put their children in difficult positions. Do you recognise any of these behaviours? Flip the card to find out more.
A.Provoking your child's other parent. If you add to the other parent's stress or anxiety, it can have a direct impact on your child/A parent feeling overwhelmed will struggle to meet thier child's needs. Try instead:Put your decisions trough "The child test". Ask yourself, "How might this affect my child?"B.Competing to be the favourite parent.Most children just want their parent's time and attention. Competing with your child's other parent can pull focus away from doing what is best for your child. Try instead: Focus on what your child needs from you. Ask yourself. "Am I doing this for my child's best interest, or for another reason?"C.Badmouthing your child's other parent.When one parent badmouths the other, your child can feel forced to choose sides.As a result, theymay avoid telling you about problems to do with their other parent. Try instead: Focus on finding a solution to the problem.If you really need to vent, call someone you trust.Just make sure your child doesn't overhear. D.Not letting your child talk about the other parent.It can be painful to hear your child talk about their other parent.But if children think what they're saying is upsetting you,they will start to censor themselves around you.Try instead:Remember that your child still loves their other parent.Try to show interest and say something positive.And smile, even if you're not feeling it!
Related Parenting courses
Family Transitions is a group parenting programme for divorced or separated parents.
At Family Transitions sessions, you meet other parents going through many of the problems that come with divorce or separation. Your Family Transitions Triple P provider will give you new ideas, techniques and strategies to help you through the day-to-day dramas and ongoing trauma of your situation. These ideas can help you cope with stress, anger and change, resolve conflict, and communicate better with your ex.
If you would like more information about Triple P or to book yourself onto a course, please contact the Family Information Service on 01452 427362
GDASS can help if there's more serious conflict in your relationship, like controlling or abusive behaviour.
Need parenting advice?
Talk to a professional you already know or contact your:
- Children & Family Centre
- Nursery or School
They can refer you to other relationship support programmes