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"He Spoils the Kids"

Also: "She's too social" "Why is it always my fault?"

Q. My husband always lets the kids override my authority. I've tried to talk to him about it, but he makes excuses. What should I do?

A. Whenever one partner undermines the influence of another, it not only threatens the trust and safety of the marriage, it often causes the children to have disrespect for the parent who's being overruled and eventually to lose respect for both parents.

Partners often discuss problems when they feel drained, discouraged, frustrated, or angry. Conversations shared in these circumstances produce more heat than light. How and when we talk about difficult issues is critical if we want to have any resolution.

Talk to your husband again—but this time prayerfully consider your key concerns. How would you define the problem? Jot down specific examples. How is it a problem for you, your marriage, and your family? On a scale from 1-10, with 1 being low and 10 being high, what's the intensity of your concern? What do you see as options? 

Ask him to listen without interrupting until you've had a chance to communicate your concerns. Start by acknowledging your love for him, his love for you, and your mutual desire for a more intimate marriage and a healthy family. Then, using the 1-10 scale, let him know how significant you think this problem is. Share specific examples—but be careful not to go on and on, and watch out for phrases such as "you always" and "you never." Be concise, since one of the most dangerous detours couples make is to end up talking about 10 issues rather than just 1.

After you've shared your concerns, listen to his response without interrupting. Ask him what he thinks some solutions might be. What could you both do differently to be more supportive of each other and consistent with the kids? If you can't come up with options, talk with some parents of older kids who seem to have done it well, or mutually select a good parenting book to read.

When things start to go better, make sure you affirm the change. That will solidify your relationship with each other and with the kids.

She's too social

Q. Whenever we go to a social function—family, church, business, friends—my wife goes off to socialize and leaves me to fend for myself. She's the life of the party, and I feel uncomfortable in groups. I've tried to explain how I feel, but she tells me I should "get out there and be more social."  It's frustrating!

A. Most people assume that what comes natural for us "should" come natural for others. If it's easy for me to be the life of the party, why can't you do it? If I enjoy it, why don't you? These differences can become a significant conflict when spouses don't understand that different personalities "do" parties differently. It's like handedness. Some people are right-handed and some are left-handed and neither one is right or wrong. Just different. 

Try reading Type Talk by Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen to learn about personality types and to understand that your differences simply reflect your different personality preferences.

Then the next time you go to a party, your wife can still "work the room" while you greet a number of people and then find one or two to sit and talk with. You both may do parties differently, but

as you learn to understand and honor each other's preferences, you'll both leave the party having had a great time.

Regardless of our preference, it can be helpful—even though uncomfortable—to push ourselves to grow in our personalities by experimenting with our opposite-preference behaviors. Your task might be to learn a few extroversion skills and her task might be to learn a few introversion skills. Although you don't have to be the "life of the party," you can ask questions and get to know people and let them know some things about you. As you begin to understand and value each other's differences, you'll be free to celebrate and even enjoy the uniqueness of each other.

Why is it always my fault?

Q. Whenever my husband and I argue—even if he's clearly at fault—he twists the issue so that I end up being in the wrong! He gets angry, and I feel guilty. How can I get him to see that he manipulates words in order to blame me?

A. An argument usually starts with two people each wanting the other to understand their perspective, agree with them, and change. They get locked into the "I'm right and you're wrong" dilemma, and the issue becomes an argument that rapidly turns into a competition for who will be the winner or loser. 

The funny thing about marriage conflicts is that whenever one of us wins, we both lose. When I'm more concerned with getting my point across than understanding my spouse's perspective, then I lose on both counts. She doesn't understand me, and I don't understand her.

But you can choose to move out of the right/wrong and win/lose perspective. If you see an issue arising that you think needs to be talked about but might end up in an argument, back off and resolve to think about it, then talk about the issue later when the emotions are not so hot. 

Next time you have an argument, follow King Solomon's advice in Proverbs 2:2, and "apply your heart to understanding" by listening to your husband's concerns. Ask him clarifying questions to help you understand what he's thinking, needing, and wanting, such as, "What was going on for you?" "What is your view?" "How do you think this could be different?"

After working to understand, ask him if he'd like to hear your thoughts either now or at a later time.

Research shows that people who feel understood are more likely to be willing to understand. We've had many couples tell us that simply choosing to understand has clarified and even solved many problems and kept conflicts from turning into arguments.

It takes only one person to change. If one of you is willing to "choose understanding," then new doors may open and you might just begin a new chapter in your marriage.

Carrie Oliver is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., co-author of A Woman's Forbidden Emotion (Regal), is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University. www.liferelationships.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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